Friday, November 26, 2010
"Oops." - 127 Hours
In Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, my favorite moment comes when Aron Ralston (James Franco), his right forearm pinned between a rock and cliff, performs for his camcorder, conducting a mock talk show interview with himself. In actuality or in a hallucination, Aron berates himself for being the big hero. “I can do everything on my own,” he says, and the film cuts to shots of Aron leaving work without telling his co-worker where he’s going and rushing out of his apartment without answering a call from his mother. When the mock interview zeroes in on Aron’s tragic act of hubris – not telling anyone that he was venturing solo into rarely frequented Blue John Canyon in Utah – Aron looks dejectedly into the camera, body slumped, eyes forlorn. “Oops,” he utters weakly. Here, Franco’s eyes skillfully register how radically he has screwed up and how he has wronged others by being an outdoor isolationist who has alienated himself from his family, his friends, and a woman who loved him (Clémence Poésy). In another great moment, we clearly see the seriousness of this “oops” in the best shot featured in any film this year. Aron has just fallen into the narrow slit and gotten his arm pinned by the boulder. Desperately, he calls out to the two female hikers, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), he had recently left. The camera swiftly pulls out of the slit to an eagle’s-eye view of this distant crack lost in a vast wasteland of rock. Aron is all alone. Big “oops” indeed!
Boyle’s perfect little film is a riveting series of dramatic moments, linked seamlessly by flashy but meaningful montage editing, featuring imaginative cinematography that offers countless visual surprises: the lone bike chained to a tree; the interior of Aron’s plastic drinking bottle; an inside look at his exploratory blade touching bone. Montage suggests how Aron Ralston, the super-wired, outdoor-thrill junkie, the ideal model for a North Face or Eastern Mountain Sporting catalogue, is the kind of twenty-something dude with the time and money for outdoor adventure, the kind of guy who brings a fiercely self-competitive drive to a wilderness regarded as an awesome outdoor playground made just for him. Unfortunately for Aron, this sense of entitlement to what nature has to offer in the way of fun leads to an obliviousness to nature’s power to kill you.
With his rugged good looks and athletic frame, James Franco is the perfect choice to play Aron Ralston, and in this role Franco displays a range he hasn’t formerly explored. When Aron starts out on his trek, Franco exudes the hyper joy to be running wild outdoors. As Aron looks into his camcorder, and looks into his soul, Franco shows Aron's implacable determination to free himself by any means he can invent, and dark despair as he chips away uselessly at the rock, tries to keep warm at night, and drinks his urine to stave off the dehydration that is a major factor in his undoing. Foolishly, he carries only one bottle of water in a climate where dehydration comes quickly, and he forgets a large bottle of Gatorade, a blunder that is strikingly shown when the route of Aron's journey is speedily reversed all the way back to his bike and then all the way back to his truck where the bottle lies abandoned in the back.
Inevitably, Franco’s deeply invested performance and Danny Boyle’s talented direction carry us from enthralling moment to moment, and we come to Aron’s gruesome resolution with a strange feeling of relief as Aron successfully hacks his way through his arm to free himself. The acknowledgement of his failings and his resolve to make amends, accompanied by memorable images such as his boyhood face peering over the rock and the family couch in the dusty canyon, make his bloody liberation an intensely emotional one. And as Aron, amazingly, rappels one-armed down a rock face and staggers toward rescue, the courage and resourcefulness he gleaned from his self-alienating periods of isolation ironically save him.