Friday Night at the Movies: 127 Hours

Friday Night at the Movies: 127 Hours May 6, 2011

Bob Robinson‘s review … by the way, we are happy to post your reviews of movies. Since I see so few movies, I don’t do these very often, but some of you are good at this and this Friday late afternoon is slot is open to you if you have a review.

127 Hours: Being a Loner is Not All That It’s Cracked Up to Be

I remember doing a solo climb up a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado. Nobody knew I was making the hike except that I signed my name in at the trailhead. As I started to head up, I noticed rescue helicopters flying around overhead. I made it to the top of the mountain and came back down safely, but later found out that a climber before me had slipped off a cliff and died. While it is exhilarating to be alone in the great outdoors, enjoying God’s amazing creation, it made me realize why they always say it’s better to climb with a buddy.

Instead of acting like I was invincible, I probably should have called my wife and told her my plans. What is it about being a loner that makes some of us feel more significant? Why do we find pleasure in “going it alone,” shunning doing things in community, brushing off relationships as if they are burdens?

In 127 Hours, James Franco plays Aron Ralston, who famously became trapped in a Utah canyon for five days when a falling boulder pinned his hand, making him helpless to escape until he boldly cut off his own arm. Ralston is portrayed as a man who acts as if he is a living Mountain Dew commercial, taking off on a Mountain Bike into the depths of Utah canyon country, alone with his only companions, his camcorder and digital camera, to explore and survive what nature has for him.

I expected to identify with Ralston’s character. I was looking forward to vicariously exploring those canyons with him and experiencing the excitement of figuring out a way to survive on pure cunning. For two hours, I wanted to be that cool loner-guy, the guy that the girls find irresistible because he doesn’t need them for a good time.

What surprised me is that I am far more like Ralston than I’d like to admit, but not in the ways I expected.

What Writer/Director Danny Boyle does with this film is allow us into the inner thoughts of the main character as he discovers his personal flaws through the crisis he faces. He discovers that he has neglected his relationships in favor of a persona that he wants for himself, the man-against-nature guy who doesn’t need other people.

In a humorous scene, Ralston turns on his camcorder and pretends to be a talk show host interviewing himself.

Ralston playing the Talk Show Host: “Aron, from Loser’s Canyon, Utah, how do you know so much?”

Ralston: “I volunteer for the Rescue Service. You see, I am something of a, uh, well a big @#%@ hard hero, and I can do everything on my own, you see?”

Talk Show Host: “I do see.” (wink) “Now, is it true that despite, or maybe because you’re a big @#%@ hard hero, you didn’t tell anyone where you were going?”

Ralston: “Uh, yea, that is absolutely correct.”

Talk Show Host: Anyone?

Ralston: Anyone.

Talk Show Host: Oops! (grin)

Ralston: Oops. (look of dismay)

Ralston then goes on to leave a message on the videotape for his parents, confessing that he had not appreciated them like he should have. It is the pivotal moment in the movie. We see in Franco’s face the sorrow that he feels, and we are moved.

James Franco is amazing in this film, able to convey the inner man of Aron Ralston’s emotion—fear, sadness, whimsy, and humor—not only through his interaction with his video camera, but also simply through his facial expressions.

Anthony Dod Mantle, who won the Academy Award for Cinematography for Boyle’s previous film, Slumdog Millionaire, and Jon Harris, who did the film editing, should have both won Oscars for this film. This movie is basically about a lone guy stuck in a narrow canyon, not exactly the kind of material for an exciting film, but it moves with an almost frenetic pace, perfectly capturing the intensity of the main character’s personality. Ralston dreams, has nightmares and hallucinations, and through these we see into the inner workings of Ralston’s mind as he reflects on his life—of a failed relationship with a girl, of his growing up with his parents and sister, of his encounter with a couple of hikers on the trail. All these chaotic images create a picture of a man who finally is getting what life is really all about. Brilliant.

If you are anything like me, you get caught up in your own private world and agenda far too much, shirking the very relationships that bring vitality to life. It is sad that it is only in those moments of crisis that we finally realize how dear community and family really is. When I personally nearly died five years ago, all I cared about was my family and friends. Five years later, I again take them all for granted. Sad.

To be human is to live in relationships. It is part of the warping of our psyche that we believe that we are better off alone. Americans are more socially isolated today than they have ever been, disconnected with others as they seclude themselves from people.

We think that being human is being able to go it alone, but in reality, being human is being interconnected with others. We actually become less human the more we scorn relationships. And yet, we are constantly taking our most treasured relationships for granted. An ancient text reads, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” It goes on to say, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

There is great wisdom in this. Let us not stop getting together with others in real relationships, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.

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  • I remember hearing about this a few years ago. Interesting perspective to take on the story. I’ll be checking it out eventually.

  • Peter

    It took me a long time to realize how much alone time I need in order to keep myself “fit for human consumption.” It is usually hiking alone (though not in areas as desolate as in this film). I loved this film, have watched it several times and find Aron to be a fascinating person, someone I would love to kick back over a beer with.

  • Looks interesting and worthwhile, Bob! Always looking for good movies, since my wife likes to watch one here at home with me on Friday night. Thanks too for your thoughts here! So true.

  • DRT

    I feel sick for saying what I am about to say, but bear me out. I am jealous for what he went through. He got to face the truth of his life, face to face, and come out the other side. I am not trivializing the experience in any way, it is truly a magnificent testament to his humanity. But there really is not many who get to experience the embrace of nonexistence.

    I am nearly 50 now, but when I met my wife in my 20’s I told her that I knew I was going to be dead by 30 and that is the way I lived my life. For those of you who may be wondering, that did not mean taking advantage of people, quite the opposite, it meant experiencing life with all people.

    It was not until I was in my mid-30s until I realized that I am still alive and have children and should change my outlook on life. I may write more about it at another time, but I am certain that it is different than most would think what that change would mean. What it meant is that I needed to make sure I was here for others.

    Like the topic today of the 10 stages of spiritual development, this topic too brings to the forefront the reality that we change in life. Not only that we change, but that we must change. Many go through life justifying their view and existence based on their actions. I life to justify and view my existence based on the way I have changed my actions.

  • Ted,
    I warn you and your wife – it’s difficult to watch him actually do what he has to do to get free. Eeeeyuk!

  • Peter-
    You and I both identify with this guy. I remember seeing him interviewed on some talk show (Letterman maybe) afterward. Good guy.

  • Dave (DRT),
    Like I said in my review, when I nearly died of an aortic dissection five years ago, there was no doubt what was important to me. Not my career, not my aspirations, not my selfish wants, not my self-identity.
    All I could think about was my children, my wife, my dear friends.
    It’s all about relationships. And yet we take it all for granted, don’t we?

  • FYI, Scot, this film was nominated for 6 Academy Awards:
    1. Best Motion Picture of the Year
    2. Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (James Franco)
    3. Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy)
    4. Best Achievement in Editing (Jon Harris)
    5. Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score (A.R. Rahman)
    6. Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (A.R. Rahman, Roland ‘Rollo’ Armstrong, Dido – “If I Rise”)

    Christian Colson
    Danny Boyle
    John Smithson

  • Terry

    The story is riveting, the film captivating and James Franco’s performance absolutely genius. I own a video rental store and “127” has kept up with Best Picture Oscar winner “The King’s Speech.”

    Bob, the tone, scope and heart of your review is a genuine tribute to a great film.

  • Thanks, Terry. Those are two good films. I bet their rentals are almost as good as “The Last Airbender.” – grin…