‘127 Hours’ is a tense but triumphant true-life tale of survival

James Franco portrays Aron Ralston, the mountaineer who famously survived entrapment in a Utah canyon by doing the unthinkable, in Danny Boyle's '127 Hours.'

There are a few people in the world who can create extraordinary cinema out of a true story, and even fewer people who live out a miraculous true story. In 127 Hours, director Danny Boyle and actor James Franco achieve artistic feats in recreating a horrific accident suffered by a mountain climber and the extreme measures he took to survive it. It’s the real-life aspect plus the storytelling by actor, director, and crew that makes this film one that will resonate with the heart and soul, as we embark on a journey with a man scaling the surface, trapped underground for an unfathomable period of time, and defying the odds to rise back above.

Franco plays Aron Ralston, an avid mountain climber. We meet him on his latest venture exploring Bluejohn Canyon in Utah when suddenly, a boulder dislodges and knocks him deep into the canyon, pinning his right forearm against the canyon wall. He attempts to break free by conventional methods, but remains trapped. Over the next five days, Aron examines his life, and we see flashbacks and him in the present day filming video diaries with his reflections and last goodbyes. He progressively becomes disoriented, delusional, and defeated until he decides to *SPOILER* sever his arm to break free. Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemence Posey, and Lizzy Caplan co-star.

The already-accomplished Franco delivers a compelling and multifaceted performance as Aron, and it’s as if we’re not not seeing the actor, but rather the man who endured the grueling ordeal back in 2003. He melts into the role naturally. Aron is initially carefree, teaching two female hikers some climbing skills before jumping into a hidden pool with them. When he gets stuck in the canyon and begins to lament things of the past, it’s obvious that he’s broken down and it feels only magnetizing to sympathize with him. He seemingly remains optimistic one morning, when he plays the part of a sunny talk show host in one of his videos, only to revert to his sad reality, his mindset of “I’m still stuck here.” Franco showcases his wide range as an actor, conveying extreme emotions, making them believable, and allowing viewers to feel with him.

The variety of camera and storytelling techniques Boyle and his team uses makes the film a very breathtaking visual piece; for example, using split-screen as a method to separate Aron’s jumbled thoughts and zooming out overhead from the space where he is trapped, in an attempt to show how traumatic his situation is, that no one can see or hear him. A.R. Rahman’s mystical and hypnotic score gives a heart-pounding rush to pace well with the movie’s intensity. Along with Franco’s raw performance, the way the images are shot and the way sound is used sweeps the audience away and into the mind and life of Aron.

127 Hours may be about a man’s struggle to survive, but moreso, it paints a stylized yet honest portrait of a character we get to know and feel close to as the movie progresses. We start to see our friend, our brother, our son, our significant other, or even ourselves in Aron that it physically and emotionally pains us to see him not able to free himself—and makes us extremely grateful and overwhelmed when he does so. Yes, he had to amputate his own arm. Yes, I hear it was pretty graphic—I admit I had to cover my eyes (There you go, James Franco’s grandma). But don’t let that one little scene keep you away from watching the movie. When it’s all said and done, you can only experience a heightened sense of euphoria for our guy and a whole lot of respect not just for what he risked, but for all that he went through for five days straight with so little. The emotion that builds up while going on this extremely trying quest explodes and floods into joy in those last 15 or so minutes.

Although we may never find ourselves stuck in a Utah canyon, we’ll never know when we may find ourselves in a situation between life or death, or worse. Following Aron’s remarkable but gloomy story serves as a reminder to never take anything for granted. But if we’re in a situation where it was actually possible to choose, we just may have to make a sacrifice to live. The real Aron Ralston still goes climbing and hiking despite losing his arm and is now married with a child, proving that  the will to live is worth it. A lush work of cinema that goes beyond pretty visuals and music, 127 Hours isn’t meant to be grim, but rather a celebration of the resilient human spirit.


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