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Movie Time: Desire & 127 Hours

November 18, 2010

According to the LA Times, this will be a HUGE time for films, what with two chick flicks coming out and the latest Harry Potter blockbuster hitting theaters. In this guest post by Ron Wells, you’ll see why the film on the top of my list to see in a movie theater is Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours starring James Franco. Just watching the trailer above gave me goose bumps.

Man vs. Nature. Man vs. Himself. Pretty elemental ingredients in literature, yet in the hands of director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) these conflicts become the stuff of real life as portrayed in 127 Hours, the real life story of Aron Ralston based on his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place


The movie almost plays out like some ancient Greek legend, as Ralston, played astoundingly and brilliantly by James Franco, leaves the overly populated world of cities for a solitary hike into Blue John Canyon in the desert of Utah. An expert hiker, climber, biker and a self-proclaimed “American Super Hero,” he takes off with hubris to spare and tells no one where he is going nor when he might return.
This is the classic Greek hero just waiting for a fall, and fall he does, literally and figuratively into a steep crevice, his arm pinned against the wall of the canyon by a huge boulder too big to move.

It is Saturday, April 25 when his adventure begins. It will last the 127 hours of the movie’s title. During this time, Boyle, Franco and the expert cinematographers Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle will take the movie going audience on a journey deep into the this desolate desert and deeper into this man’s mind, as well as into his his hopes, dreams and thoughts of his past life and a future life if he survives this horrific ordeal.


Because he is an engineer, every imaginable means of escape is tried. Water itself is more precious than gold or anything else on Earth. This is survival on its most basic level.

When not trying to move the boulder, Ralston thinks back to all of the people in his life he has ignored in one way or another in his quest to be alone and self sufficient. And now he finds himself more alone than he ever cared to be.

Yet, what does one think about when one is in a predicament where one is about to die? This is where Boyle and his co-writer Simon Beaufoy take the audience.

In no time at all it is easy to ask, “What would I do if I were in his situation?” And, “How could I have lived my life differently if I were about to die?” These are questions that strike at the heart of who we are as human beings and the way in which we choose to live, and it keeps the audience glued to the story they are watching.


On the screen, Franco gives us all of these thoughts and more. It is harrowing in the extreme, and we are never quite sure how this man is able to reach inside of himself and find the wherewithal to not go insane, let alone survive. The hero may have fallen, but he is not dead, and if he is to live, his life will surely be changed in fundamental ways. But first, he must survive, and so he tells himself, “Do not lose it.”
We watch as his thumb slowly deteriorates, with his arm not far behind. While this is happening, Boyle flashes back to Ralston’s earlier life and those people he may never see again. We also see a future that he has premonitions about, and then as the days slowly march on we watch as he hallucinates about going to a party he could have attended, and then about a flood that might allow him to escape. This is spellbinding and edge of your seat movie going. There wasn’t a sound in the theater through the entire movie except that which was coming from the screen.

Ralston has a video camera along with him and we laugh as he pretends to be on a morning talk show, and we feel the sorrow as he says his goodbyes. On the canyon wall he scrawls his name with “RIP 75-03.”

As for the decision that he ultimately must make if he is to survive, it is as powerful as advertised, and yet no one left the theater that I was in while that scene is being played out. Horrific and stomach churning as it is, it is also heroic and brave beyond words.

This is a great movie. The film, Boyle, and Franco are sure to be nominated for Academy Awards. In an odd, weird sort of way, this is the flip side of the movie “Into the Wild.” The difference is that in this one we have a better understanding of how the man got into the predicament he got himself into and how he drew on an internal life force that allowed him to survive. In “Into the Wild,” we had a man who was on a search that left him dead, as well as the audience shaking it’s head and asking why he actually did what he did. “127 Hours” presents no such confusion.

Aron Ralston was a man who loved the outdoors and being strong, alone and self sufficient. He met a challenge in a “rock that had been waiting for me, my entire life.” Destiny? Fate? Aron Ralston met the challenge of the Gods head on, never giving up on himself nor life itself.

Man vs. nature. Man vs. himself. Conflicts that are so elemental and so profound, they are eternal in their telling. How lucky we are to have this magnificent film to remind us of the value of life itself, and the fortitude needed to draw from deep within ourselves the power  to fight back against even the most desperate of challenges placed before us by fate, destiny, or the Gods. How fortunate we are to have Danny Boyle’s movie about  Aron Ralston to remind us of all of this and the triumph of the human spirit.
Ron Wells contributes frequently to this blog on the topics of music and film.
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