[This review by Jeffrey Overstreet was originally published at Seattle Pacific University’s Response.]
Imagine falling into a crack in the earth, and getting trapped there for several days, your arm pinned by an immovable boulder. Such a calamity would probably test your faith. Would you question the existence of God? Cry out to him? Give up on him?
Danny Boyle’s film about Aron Ralston’s ordeal is supposed to be about the long hours of the climber’s struggle for survival while stuck in Utah’s Blue John Canyon. During his desperate circumstances, we see Ralston wrestle with regret and yearn to connect with his family and friends. But does 127 Hours take us any deeper than that?
All of Aron’s tangential hallucinations and dream sequences seem designed to help us arrive at simple and predictable conclusions: That Aron shouldn’t be so reckless in his independence, and that, yes, he does need other people. His need for any kind of spiritual consolation remains curiously ignored. What does he believe? We don’t know. Who is he addressing when he moans, “Please … please ….” Who does he thank when things take a turn for the better? We’re not told.
Meanwhile, Boyle’s movie is anything but stuck. It’s what we’ve come to expect from him — a whirlwind of hyperactive cinema. Could a film about being trapped in a crevasse be any more acrobatic than this one?
That’s a shame. James Franco appears to be giving a great performance, but Boyle splices and dices his footage so relentlessly that we only experience fleeting moments of Franco’s work.
In this sense, Boyle’s film reminds me of Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar entry: Black Swan. The directors seem worried that they’ll lose our attention. They’ve made movies that are closer to an amusement park thrill rides than meditations on human nature, suffering, and the consequences of misguided priorities. The primary substance of both films is their style; their subjects get a little lost. It’s an ordeal for the audience, but it’s the wrong kind of ordeal. It becomes a test of nerves, rather than a challenge for the body and the soul.
For a great film about what goes on in the human head and heart during an ordeal like this, rent Touching the Void instead.