127 Hours: A Recommendation from Steve

What a pleasant surprise!  I certainly didn’t expect 127 Hours to jump to No. 2 in my list of Best Movies in 2010.  I’m a big fan of Danny Boyle’s movies.  127 HoursHis directing style is inventive and dazzling, but I wasn’t sure how much difference that could make in a movie about a guy trapped in a canyon.  Nonetheless, his involvement made me anxious to see it.  On the other hand, the movie stars James Franco, an actor I have been less than impressed with.  Add to that his flop in hosting the Oscars, and my enthusiasm for seeing the film was definitely waning.  Finally, there was the scene.  Did I really want to experience that?  So, I put the movie in the DVD player with moderate expectations, at best, and I was blown away!

 I loved it!  My admiration for 127 Hours does begin with Boyle’s directing.  I’ve read negative reviews that go so far as to say that Boyle doesn’t care about the story, but rather that he simply uses it as an excuse to show off his flamboyant virtuosity.  I agree that his style is flamboyant, but I disagree that he doesn’t care about the story.  His visual style makes telling the story possible.  When you are telling the story of a man trapped in a narrow canyon with his arm pinned against the wall by a boulder and 80% or so of the movie will focus on the time he spent trapped, you can’t just set up your camera and tell the actor to appear to be in agony for over an hour of screen time.  Boyle’s creativity drew me into the story.  I cared about Aron, even if he was a careless fool (which he does admit in the course of those 127 hours.)  Boyle’s marvelous work begins with the opening scene.  As he roams around the house preparing for his hike, there is some simple foreshadowing; he fails to answer the phone, forcing his mother to leave a message on the answering machine; he reaches for items on a high shelf and his hand just misses his Swiss army knife, so he leaves it behind.  The powerful visual image in this scene, however, involves water, which will become so precious when he is in the canyon.  He sets his water bottle in the sink and turns on the tap to fill it while he goes about his other business.  The bottle overflows before he returns.  He turns off the water, but as he walks away, the faucet continues to drip, a visual image of how we take things for granted when we have them in excess.

 Boyle did his part, but how about Franco?  He nailed the most difficult role of his career!  He begins the movie cocky and carefree and then moves effortlessly in the despair and desperation of being trapped and facing almost sure death.  Like Tom Hanks in Castaway, he is forced to carry the movie and he does.  One of my favorite scenes occurs late in the movie.  Delirious from lack of food and water, Aron interviews himself as if on a talk show.  As the interviewer, Franco plays Aron with heightened cockiness.  As the interviewee, Franco presents Aron as defeated, yet reflective.  The scene plays out as both humorous and poignant and the credit for that goes to both Boyle and Franco.  The scene ends with the most profound utterance of “oops” in cinema history.  This movie helps us to ponder what it means to face life’s “oopses.”  Aron faced a huge “oops” and Franco does a marvelous job in presenting this small, but significant slice of his life.

Speaking of slices, that brings us to the scene.  I can’t imagine that it qualifies as a spoiler to talk about what happens at the climax of the film.  Anyone who watches this surely knows, or should know what happens.  Aron’s story gained notoriety because it was not a routine tale of survival.  When it became a matter of life and death, Aron chose life by choosing to cut off his own arm to free himself.  As director, Boyle faced his greatest challenge in this scene.  How do you present such an event realistically without overdoing it?  I think that he used proper restraint, but nonetheless, this scene was the most intense experience I recall in all my years of movie viewing.  I’ve seen hundreds of orcs and zombies lose numerous body parts.  Being a fan of Scorsese and Tarantino, I have seen plenty of bloodshed, but none of that prepared me for this.  This felt all too real!  I nearly turned away, but forced myself to watch.  My advice, be aware of this scene, but don’t skip the movie because of it.  Close your eyes for a few moments if you need to and for the rest of the time enjoy a great movie about the survival of the human spirit.  Watch and wonder: what would you do?  As Aron recalls mostly simple episodes of his life, ask yourself, if you were faced with death, what would you remember about your life?

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