127_hours_posterDanny Boyle’s 127 Hours is based on Aron Ralston’s autobiography, Between A Rock And A Hard Place, and dramatically re-enacts the five days he endured trapped by a boulder in Blue John Canyon, Utah and his amazing escape (minus one limb).

I was braced for some gory scenes after reading of people fainting during the screening of this movie. In the event, I found the climatic scene to be fairly mild.  Unlike splatter films, most of the horror is left to your imagination. I can only think those who passed-out  were psyched-up beforehand just thinking about what it must take to cut off your arm with a blunt knife.

It is not giving away anything by saying this is what happens at the end of the movie; the drama is not built on suspense. Boyle describes it well as “an action movie with a guy who cannot move” and his movie gives some idea of being inside Aron ‘s head during this ordeal.

It’s hard to imagine there are many with the kind of mindset and survival skills that would enable them to survive in the way Aron did. Some clue as to the type of guy we are dealing with comes from an NBC interview he gave in which he was asked whether he had shouted for help. He replied that he had yelled a few times but added that he didn’t do it much because he knew there was very little hope that anyone would hear him and because “I didn’t like the sound of my voice – it  sounded panicked; it sounded scared”.

Remember this is someone in a life or death situation, with the odds stacked in the grim reaper’s favour. If you can’t feel scared in this situation, when can you?

The movie looks like an accurate portrayal (Aron himself has given his seal of approval). It shows him displaying a combination of resignation, anger and frustration but not total desperation. Of course what we don’t see, and again can only imagine, is all the hours spent just hanging on for dear life.

What Aron accepts is that his reckless actions and resolute independence made this an accident waiting to happen. The fact that he told no-one where he was headed meant that there was never any realistic hope that a search party would find him.

In spite of this, Aron maintains his sang-froid,  having the presence of mind to make a video message for his mom and dad, ration his meagre resources, make a harness to support himself and concoct an effective tourniquet .  After the horrendous process of freeing himself he even stops to takes of photo of the arm he’s leaving behind (one for the album!) .

I doubt if you get much practice at drama school interacting with a large rock, but this is James Franco’s task for the majority of the movie. He does a convincing job and despite being largely immobile injects the character with a dynamic sense of purpose. Ultimately this is a movie with an old-fashioned theme of triumph against the odds and learning from the experience.

The photography is fantastic giving a real sense of the beautiful yet unforgiving wilderness Aron was lost in. Boyle’s slumdog-Woodstock effect of having a three-way split screen is overly fussy and an irritating distraction but on the whole he directs the movie with panache.

Aron Ralston

This could easily have been presented as a dour and claustrophobic drama but the music opens it up to give a broader perspective on the story. The soundtrack is surprisingly upbeat and even humorous – Boyle obviously figured the weight of the rock was burden enough.

The first song we hear is by Free Blood which (appropriately) takes its title from Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun . The first lines of ‘Never Hear Surf Music Again’ are “There must be some fucking chemical , Chemical in your brain, That makes us different from animals, makes us all the same” . This tune wouldn’t have been out-of-place in Trainspotting and it immediately establishes Aron’s rebellious ‘I am not a number’ attitude.

In contrast there’s obvious irony in the juxtaposition of Aron’s plight with  Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’  and Plastic Betrand’s absurd (but fun) punk-pop rendition of Ca Plane Pour Moi.  The implicit message seems to be:  life sucks, rocks are heavy but let’s look on the bright side.

Aron’s liberation is to the tune of Sigur Ros’ euphoric Festival and Dido’s soporific If I  Rise over the closing credits confirms the feel good message.

The score is by prolific Indian composer A.R Rahman (who also did the music for Slumdog Millionaire).

At the very end  we get shots of the real life Aron and his wife plus the information that his enthusiasm for his action man lifestyle remains undiminished. These days, though, he always tells his loved ones where he’s going (and presumably has invested in a sharper knife!).