Could you or couldn’t you cut your own arm off?
British filmmaker Danny Boyle is back with another snappy flick, after the huge success of Slumdog Millionaire – which won Best Picture and Best Director at the 2009 Oscars.
The opening 60 minutes of 127 Hours, based on a true-story, guides us through mountain climber Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) five-day struggle to survive Utah’s outback in 2003.
With the screen splitting into three columns, set to a backdrop of upbeat music, the opening scenes grips you with its artistic flair. Boyle wastes no time getting us up to speed, with quick snapshots of the adventurer’s life as he heads to Blue John Canyon.We immediately learn that our protagonist lives life in the fast lane and isn’t one for thinking twice about his decisions.
With an endearing love for life, he jumps and bounds around the USA, woo-hooing and high-fiving with wanton abandon, but already you wish he’d told SOMEBODY where he was going.
Despite sitting comfortably in our seats, it’s hard not to feel Ralston’s genuine freedom against a beautifully shot backdrop. Mother Nature knows how to make things look good, although we find out later that she’s a fairly unforgiving type too.
Meeting two girls along the way (Tamblyn and Mara), Franco shows off Ralston’s his wild side by free-falling into underground water caverns with a goofy grin and little else to protect him but his charm.
This is all building up to the inevitable; the scene we are all here to see.
Skipping over smooth orange rocks with his earphones in, Ralston suddenly disturbs a rock which causes him to slip and fall. The rock wedges his right arm against a wall trapping him inside the canyon.
This is where the film takes us into more spiritual and emotional territory. Above all, this becomes a depiction of what happens when a human has to make a choice between living and dying.
Watching Ralston struggle to free his arm, using a video camera to keep a diary of his five-day hell, you start to root for his bravery and control over rising panic. As the days go on, the hallucinations begin. Ralston craves the few minutes of sunshine each day as he lies trapped in the darkness, time punctuated by the bird flying overhead each morning.
Seeing the life drain from him, Ralston reflects on the error of his ways and realises the true worth of the people he loves.
Leaving video messages for his family and friends he appears to accept that death in the canyon may actually be his fate.
Until he gets out the pen-knife.
You know what happens next. In graphic and gruesome scene, Ralston amputates his own arm and frees himself from the clutches of death.
Dehydrated and delirious, Ralston then stumbles on for eight tortuous miles until he encounters a family on vacation and is finally rescued.
This is a rare movie; certainly one that pushes the boundaries of just how gory you can possibly make what is a mainstream film. It also asks us to examine exactly what we hold dear in life.
A cracking return from Boyle, who manages to hold the attention in a taut final third and reworks the light and shade storytelling that made Slumdog... such a big hit.