Friday, April 03, 2015

"127 Hours": review

"127 Hours" stars James Franco in the role of real-life athlete/adventurer Aron Ralston, who went through a harrowing experience in the Blue John Canyon in Utah. You may have read or heard about Ralston's 2003 misadventure: he's the guy who ended up having to cut off his own arm at the elbow, using nothing but a dull survival knife, to free himself from an 800-pound boulder that had left him trapped for, well, 127 hours (that's about 5 days, 7 hours).

As you can imagine, the movie version of this horrific experience has a very, very simple plot. This isn't one of those times when a reviewer should be complaining about a movie's lack of complexity: the situation simply was what it was. We begin the story with Ralston driving out to the canyon area while it's still pitch dark; he bikes along a rough trail for a good part of the morning, then encounters two young, female hikers for whom he acts as a guide. Ralston shows the girls an enchanting underground lake (you have to take a leap of faith to reach it; this was an exciting scene to watch); they eventually part ways. Ralston starts climbing into a narrow part of the canyon, and that's when a loose boulder tumbles down and traps him, right as he reaches the bottom of the defile. (Ralston was lucky, in that sense: what if he'd been trapped with his feet still dangling in the air?)

Most of the rest of the movie is about getting inside Ralston's head during his ordeal: there are flashbacks to earlier points in his life and, as time goes on and Ralston starts to lose it, hallucinations both comical and frightening. Ralston, while trapped, has to endure a massive, brutal rainstorm that floods the defile and threatens to drown him; otherwise, he contends with thirst and eventually finds himself forced to drink his own urine, Bear Grylls-style (the urine-drinking scene is filmed in a particularly unpleasant way; hats off to the director and cinematographer). One thing Ralston fixates on is his failure in finding his sharp Swiss Army knife when he was prepping for that morning's excursion. The only knife he has is dull.

Ralston eventually comes to the conclusion that the only way he's going to survive—since no one has heard his screams, and since he never reported his itinerary to anyone—is to cut himself free. The scene in which Ralston liberates himself from the boulder was apparently so intense that some viewers lacking in intestinal fortitude reportedly fainted. I have a fairly high tolerance for the grotesque in movies, so I watched that scene with clinical fascination, even as my own arm hurt empathetically.

The rest of the movie is epilogue: Ralston makes it out of the defile, finds a family that immediately calls for help, gets back to civilization, is patched up, and emerges from the experience a much wiser man. I have to give Ralston—on whose book the movie is based—credit for dealing so honestly with his own hubris. He was young, athletic, and probably thought of himself as invincible. He still goes adventuring, despite a missing forearm, but he now knows to report his itinerary to someone before he goes.

"127 Hours" makes for some intense viewing. It's not a deep or complex movie; its central theme is simply the will to survive. But that's a theme that many movies and books return to, probably because it's so primal. I was riveted while watching Ralston's experience as portrayed by Franco; I later read around and found out that Franco himself was pushed to the physical and mental brink in his depiction of Ralston's experience. All around, very impressive work.

That's another item off my to-do list. And now, just a reminder of where I am when it comes to keeping my promises:


1. A review of "Joe," starring Nicolas Cage.
2. A review of both "Tim's Vermeer" and "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."
3. A review of "Warrior," starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte.
4. Photos of my students giving you the finger (gonna mosaic out the fingers).
5. A review of Stephen R. Donaldson's The Last Dark.
6. A review of Suki Kim's Without You, There Is No Us.
7. A review of Bobcat Goldthwait's "God Bless America."
8. A review of "127 Hours," starring James Franco.
9. A long, long-promised review of "Oldboy."
10. A survey of student comments from my previous job.
11. A stupid dialogue with one clueless student.
12. A post that dishes (nothing too terrible) on a friend of mine.
13. A mopping-up post that dumps all the rest of the Pohang photos from last year.
14. A review of "The Lunchbox," starring Irrfan Khan.

Expect all the above and more, including a rant about linguistic descriptivism versus prescriptivism prompted, once again, by arrant nonsense from the ever-frustrating Dr. Steven Pinker—genius scientist, evil Canuck, and hair model.


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