Features Live Action Movies

127 Hours

Director – Danny Boyle – 2010 – US – Cert. 15 – 93m

UK release date 07/01/2011, cert. 15, 93 mins

The trailer for this gives a pretty good impression of about its first third. Experienced, youthful and single outdoor explorer Aron Ralston (James Franco) mountain bikes through the Utah landscape, meets a couple of girls and shows them an incredible underground lake, continues on his merry solo way until, rock climbing, he slips down a crevasse where a falling boulder pinions his wrist…trapping him for the eponymous and subsequent 127 hours / the rest of the film.

Where Buried (Rodrigo Cortés, 2010) relentlessly encased its leading man in a coffin from opening to closing frame, 127 Hours not only starts off in wide open landscapes but also punctuates its narrative with memory flashbacks, dreams and visions. Thus, when you see Aron freeing himself, you’re not initially sure whether he’s actually doing so or merely imagining it in his head. Such devices provide space to deal with the transcendent in a way that Buried never really did.

If Buried is a horror movie (will he survive being buried alive? can he escape?), 127 Hours starts off as outdoor adventure then veers into the question of: if you knew for certain you were going to die, what would you want to do with the ever decreasing amount of time you had left? Specifically, if you were trapped somewhere like that without human contact, what would your mind do, where would it wander?

It’s almost as if a serious drama about the values of someone alone with a terminal illness has been recast as an easily saleable Hollywood action movie.

Except of course that British director Boyle is not a Hollywood director. If his prior Slumdog Millionaire (2008) scooped Academy Awards, it did so from an American industry that had earlier written that film off as unsaleable, straight to video fodder.

Aron lives life at such breakneck speed that in a frantic search through apartment cupboards he not only misses an essential piece of kit that might later have helped him escape but also lacks time to phone back his mum, who’s left a message on his answering machine. Later, however, once trapped, he’s thinking about the two girls he’s met. He imagines himself attending the party to which he was invited (and which he now can’t possibly get to in time). He recalls an orgy in the back of a van, about the girlfriend with whom he split up. About his parents. He imagines a wife and child. (Or are they telepathically reaching out to him from the future?)

In other words, he’s thinking about community in the sense of, his relationship with other human beings on the planet. And how he’s screwed it up. It’s true he scarcely prays and is somewhat self-obsessed, yet once Aron becomes isolated within his slot canyon, he perfectly illustrates Donne’s dictum that, “no man is an island.” It’s a post-Me Decade narrative, where I’m only important insofar as my life touches those of others. And, as such, unexpectedly transcendent and profoundly moving.

Review originally published in Third Way, 2011.


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