127 Hours – an epiphany

Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours always had the potential to be deadly dull. But it was anything but. The story of Aaron Ralston, acted by James Franco, was beautifully shot, superbly scripted and captivatingly rendered.

Here’s the deal (in über précis form): while on a hiking trip in Utah, mountain climber Aaron Ralston is trapped in a canyon under a boulder that dislodges and falls (along with Aaron), crushing his right forearm and pinning it against the canyon wall. Ralston told noybody of his hiking plans (ie. no rescue foreseeable) and had only 350ml of water at his disposal. After exhausting all options, in desperation, Raulston experiments with tourniquets and uses a rather blunt knife to make some exploratory but superficial cuts to his forearm – he abandons the idea as he has no way of cutting through the bone. So he’s stuck. Firm and fast. After five days, weakened and hallucinating, Ralston realises that there is a way to free his arm (and save his life): he breaks his radius and ulna using torque against his trapped arm, thereafter using previously mentioned two-inch blade to perform an amputation.  He then climbs out of the ravine, rappels down a 65-foot sheer wall one-handed and hikes out of the canyon in the hot midday sun – he encounters a family on vacation and is saved.

It’s insane. Brave. Stupid. Inspiring. Did I mention insane.

127 Hours never succumbs to the tone of a prosaic ‘stuck in a hole for five days’ bore fest; Boyle hooks his audience by using unique images and clever film techniques to reveal Ralston’s character as well as capture his psychological turmoil. The thoughts, memories, comments and hallucinations belonging to the trapped climber are a great source of entertainment, hilarity, cringeworthiness and vicarious stress for the viewer. Ralston has a brilliant sense of humour and uses some black comedic wit to to deal with his predicament – he realises his arrogance (but not in an annoying sentimental-last-moment-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel kind of way) and whilst alone with his panic makes some sound observations about his life.

A bizarre coincidence got the ol’ cogs turning in my head whilst watching the film: Aaron falls on 26 April 2003. The day I turned 21. Whilst Aaron Ralston was using a blunt knife to chip away at a rock in an attempt to save his life, I was eating a Dragon Ball Z birthday cake and standing on a chair making a rather lame speech. A sobering thought and poignant reminder of the existence of others… yes, others.

Every second of every day something crazy is happening somewhere else… right as we are going through Life’s most mundane tasks someone else is fighting a losing (sometimes winning) battle. I am by no means saying that we fixate on the bizarre nature of the world’s schizophrenic time line… but sometimes it’s good to remember the plight of others, even if it serves to make us grateful for our own existence and privileges.

I love that films have the ability to evoke emotions and ideas that are often based almost entirely on a viewer’s context. Or on a state of emotion, mood or intellect that exists when watching the film but may turn out to be fleeting, or may not. Art is deeply personal and its inherent beauty is rooted in its dynamic appeal.

Thanks, Danny Boyle and James Franco, for a great film and thanks Aaron Ralston for being the mentalist that you are – you (collective) reminded me of something important.