Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy
Cast: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
Aron seems like the living embodiment of the person you see in Mi-Zone sports drink ads. He is so pumped up with adrenaline and a passion for recreation and spontaneity that he neglects to tell anyone where he’s going. It’s like he just woke up on Saturday morning and thought ‘Whelp, I may as well go cycling and hiking through a canyon today.’ When I think about my own Saturday ritual which usually involves sitting on the couch, playing Xbox and then going for a trip to the Nandos around the corner, my lifestyle couldn’t be any more different to this guy.
127 Hours plays its hand very early on in the film (no pun intended). Within twenty minutes of the opening credits, Aron has driven out of town, gone biking and hiking, had a brief exchange with two female hikers who are lost, continued hiking on his own and then falls down a crevasse where he lodges his arm under a boulder and is stuck.
As you can imagine when a plot is simple enough that it can be described in a single sentence, 127 Hours is a film about the journey and not the final destination. I believe almost everyone watching this film has heard of Aron and knows how the story ends. I suspect even Aron understands what he has to do within a couple of hours of standing there and staring at the physics puzzle that sits on his arm. It just takes him the better part of five days before the desperation and dehydration drives him to commit the unenviable act of severing his own arm to free himself.
Danny Boyle directs this film with a surprisingly single-minded focus. The trailers leading up to the film’s release seemed to show a series of flashbacks where a remorseful Aron laments that he didn’t appreciate his parents enough and it looked as though we would see more of his life before he goes on his trip. In actuality, these flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations take up only a smidgem of film’s overall running time. Mostly, we’re there in the crevasse with Aron, as he tries to free himself. Often, we see Aron through the lens of his video camera, as though we’re watching a documentary.
127 Hours is then something of a masterclass in suspenseful film making, as Boyle manages to not only hold the audience’s attention but also succeeds in instilling a sense of desperation, dread and then finally, revulsion as Aron hacks his way through his arm using a blunt hiking tool. The amputation is not graphically indulgent but you’ll likely be so invested in Aron’s predicament that you can’t help but wince and recoil as it happens. Just like the ear-chopping scene in Reservoir Dogs, its what you don’t see and what forces you to use your imagination that makes the scene so difficult to sit through.
James Franco is excellent in his portrayal as Aron Rolston. Youtube footage of Rolston’s appearances on talk shows reveal that Franco doesn’t really look much like the man himself but he nails the mannerisms and his demeanour to a tee. This is an actor who has come a long way since he shot to fame portraying a comic book super villain in Spider-man ten years ago.
If you enjoy 127 Hours, an excellent companion piece to this film would be Kevin McDonald’s mountain-climbing film Touching The Void, a docu-drama that retells the true story of a man who breaks his leg whilst scaling a mountain and faces a similarly gruelling ordeal to survive. The two films share many qualities and are both excellent in how they convincingly portray a man’s will to live in extraordinary circumstances. Hopefully Rolston himself will get a chance to watch Touching the Void and take some cautionary notes. The end credits of 127 Hours reveal that he has fully recovered from his ordeal and now spends his free time climbing mountains, missing limb and all.