Saturday, January 29, 2011

Collision Course -- Reflections on "127 Hours"

Stop screaming like a sissy and cut it off already!
There's a moment in 127 Hours just as emotionally arresting as the scene in which Aron Ralston (James Franco) cuts off his own arm with a utility knife.

The movie's premise is deceptively simple: Franco plays Aron Ralston, an adventurous rock climber who goes on a rock climb alone in the middle of nowhere, but gets his arm stuck under a rock when he makes a miscalculation. He hasn't told anyone of his whereabouts before the climb, so he's trapped for 127 hours before having to cut off his own arm to save his life. Telling you this is not much of a spoiler -- people will want to see the movie just to watch a man cut off his arm, just as we all like to slow down to watch car wrecks on the freeway, or watch reality television.

The moment that resonated with me even more than the self-amputation was something much less dramatic, but equally as important. Facing his only friend, a video camera he's been using sparingly to chronicle his ordeal, Ralston realizes that meeting this rock has always been his destiny. That since this rock was a tiny meteorite, he has been on a collison course.

Metaphorically, we all have our "rock in a hard place" moments in life where we must make the tough decisions that reveal to us who we really are once the artifices we affect fall away. Addicts call it "hitting rock bottom."

Aron Ralston realizes over the course of his calamity that he is a selfish, self-indulgent, stubborn human being. He's also quite charming and charismatic, but that doesn't change the fact that on his path to being trapped under the rock, he left behind a slew of people hurt by his true nature. The movie's strength comes in bringing Aron's redemption in character moments like this, which set-up the horrific climax so effectively. It's a testament to director/writer Danny Boyle's talent that he turns this tale of survival into a character study with no easy answers.

As with any movie that has a shock ending, the quality is revealed in the journey. Boyle could've made this film quite boring. After all, we are stuck with one character locked in place for several days. He uses some clever camera angles and movements to add to the intensity, but mostly employs some amazing hallucinatory moments and flashbacks to intensify Aron's experience.

None of this would work though without James Franco's triumphant performance. I never thought he'd become such a terrific actor when I first saw him in Spider-Man as Peter Parker's spoiled rich friend, Harry Osbourne. Since then, though, he's selected quality scripts and put together some great work: Pineapple Express, Milk, and Howl are excellent and diverse. Now, with 127 Hours, Franco has constructed a layered character, who struggles to remain clever and cool as he walks the razor's edge of sanity. Despite the obvious tempations, he avoids overacting and as a result gives us a nuanced character.

As I watched 127 Hours, I remember thinking this is why I go to the movies -- so I can experience extreme events like this without ever having to go through them myself. For a movie to remind me of this is enough to make it recommendable. Add to that it's overall quality, it's a must-see.

1 comment: