Before things begin to go terribly wrong for Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, there’s a quiet interlude where the film’s heroic thrill-seeker meets two female hikers and they share the following exchange:
“Uh, so how far is it to where you’re goin’, Aron?”
“About 7 miles, not too bad.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t say ‘7.2’ miles,” she teases, barely keeping a straight face.
“Wellll…,” Aron responds, “it’s actually 7.3 miles.”
“Oh,” the other woman grins, “You’re one of those guys.”
Bull’s-eye. The legendary SF writer Robert Heinlein once said, â€œA human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.â€ Ralston is one of those guys.
And considering what Ralston does for fun, it’s good being versatile. It helps keep you alive.
Aron Ralston is a mountain climber, control freak, and a hardcore adrenaline junkie. But there’s a horrible accident with Ralston’s name on it waiting for him. In 127 Hours (based on Ralston’s memoir, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”), it’s the true story of what happens to Ralston when a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah for the next five days. Of course, other than a few random tourists who were vacationing on Pluto at the time, everybody else knows what Ralston had to do.
But thanks to the cunning sorcery of Oscar award-winning director Danny Boyle, even though the audience already knows what happened to the trapped Aron Ralston, it doesn’t matter.
Using a truckload of his favorite cinematic tools (split screens, flashbacks, extreme closeups, dream sequences, kicking down the fourth wall, a thunderous heartbeat of a soundtrack, etc.), Boyle’s joyfully subversive nail-biter of a psychological drama soars in unexpected directions. Throughout his eclectic career (Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), Boyle has defiantly refused to be shoehorned into a preconceived category. I think the odds are good that the iconoclastic British filmmaker is one of those guys, too.
And considering how long Boyle has been a director, it’s good being versatile. It helps keep your films interesting.
Then there’s James Franco. Taking on a role where the lead character is on the screen most of the time is incredibly challenging for an actor because there’s no place to hide. When Tom Hanks tried it in Castaway, I thought his performance was problematic because of the stupid volleyball gimmick. However, next to his ferocious portrayal of Allen Ginsburg in the criminally-overlooked Howl, Franco’s subtle and complex interpretation of Aron Ralston further cements his impressive reputation as a young actor worth paying attention to.
And considering what Ralston has to do to save himself, it’s good when your character is being played by a versatile and charismatic actor. It helps keep the audience in their seats when they want to run away screaming.
Aron Ralston understood that a dull knife was the dividing line between life and death, and when he survived his ordeal and found a spiritual epiphany at the end, it’s a triumphant moment that’s believable, heartfelt and well-deserved. 127 Hours is a honorable testament to what real courage is.