93 Minutes // USA // Fox Searchlight Pictures
dir. Danny Boyle
Saturday, September 18th, 2010 – Toronto International Film Festival (Bell Lightbox)
starring: James Franco
After their formidable tag-team that won them plenty of acclimation in 2008, director Danny Boyle and screenwrite Simon Beaufoy collaborate once again to bring us the cynical counterpart of what Slumdog Millionaire was. While the 2008 Best Picture winner cut through the miseries of life to celebrate being, 127 Hours focuses on its protagonist amidst a life-threatening dilemma with occasional reflections of how it was once celebrated.
The film begins with Aron Ralston (James Franco) frantically compiling the bare necessities for a spontaneous trip to his favorite place in the entire world, Blue John Canyon. He neglects to make sure he has everything while leaving his abode, a steel Swiss army knife being the most notable tool forgotten, which opens the character up for criticism almost immediately. His hand runs across a cupboard floor frantically, Aron seems adamant that this important tool resides in this part of his home. His fingers even touch the tool, but since he cannot grasp it and can’t be bothered to peer into the cupboard, he leaves it behind unknowingly. Later, when he’s trapped, he remarks on the misfortune of not having the tool – the irony is both humorous and macabre enough to chill an entire audience while supplying them with a few laughs – both uneasy ones and ones that recall the humor in life’s ironies. I know, the packed crowd certainly responded to the sad truth that being slightly forgetful can wind up being cause for major disappointment later on.
So for the majority of people, Aron’s sincere desperation and his unfortunate happenstance of which the film is completely composed will thoroughly and sufficiently entice and fulfill the audience looking for sad ironies, the unsettling mental degradation of man in peril, frantic film editing tricks that mirror that collapse (think Requiem for a Dream) and an overall “experience” because Anthony Dod Mantle generally does well in putting you in Aron’s place. Whether its a suffocating close-up that feels akin to his work during his Dogme years or the ethereal beauty that illuminates the flashbacks – the most beautiful and invigorating shot is one in which Aron recalls ex-girlfriend Rana (Clemence Posey) as she breaks up with him at a hockey game – Mantle’s work is very exact. It is only in the editing room where his work is, well, dismantled.
The film’s scope may be diminutive and the story may be tedious at times and derivative at others, but overall this film’s only offense (on the surface, anyway) is containing far too much style and fitting far too many multi-perspective edits into one frame of film. After the first twenty minutes, the style becomes so assiduous that it significantly mitigates whatever purpose it could have had in being jarring or disheartening (think Requiem for a Dream). It isn’t surprising to discover that Jon Harris, film editor of Snatch. and Kick-Ass, edited the film because even though Slumdog Millionaire showcased Boyle’s penchant for flamboyant visual tricks, they never grew so tiresome until he used those same tricks with someone even more visually egregious than himself. It’s a headache of a film – the soundtrack by A.R. Rahman is more intrusive than anything Slumdog Millionaire perpetuated – which is sad because of it were done in a way more adherent to cinematic norms, it would have been more potent in putting the viewer in the shoes and mind of Aron.
Now onto my personal gripe with the film – Aron Ralston. Not the representation of him by James Franco, no, because Franco portrays the man completely sincere to the simple humanity that defines Aron, as well as the more difficult to ascertain mental decadence of the man in the later stages. What’s offensive is how the man… is. And I know I’m alone, or at least one of the few with this view, so I must stress that this is a personal aggravation I have that the vast majority of viewers probably will not share.
It begins with Aron’s being trapped. Now, the man went on a journey that is monumentally dangerous in principle. The fact that he doesn’t call anybody to tell them where he is fine – that’s the stubbornness of man done said in a reasonable way – but it is when he doesn’t double-check to see that he has all of the appropriate tools to prepare himself for the outdoors it gets annoying. The aforementioned irony that caused some to laugh and others to feel abject did neither for me – it communicated a convoluted attempt at skating over the obvious flaws of Aron. By making the audience laugh or feel bad on an inherent level, no one will seek to question the man’s actions on anything more than a rudimentary level.
So he’s trapped. His arm is stuck, his hand has lost complete circulation after a day, Aron realizes that his hand is no longer going to be of any use to him – we know this because he narrates this almost verbatim to that statement – but he refuses to cut off his arm. That’s reasonable – first, from what we know the man doesn’t have the required tools to cut through his arm and second, he’d bleed to death if he did that. So he chips away at the rock with a cheap, plastic Swiss Army knife that he jokes about later on during one of the torpid confessions he speaks into a digital camera he brought. This becomes his video diary before dying and thus the channel that Beaufoy communicates Aron’s worriment and personality through. But back on track, Aron chips away at this boulder and speaks into the camera later on that it is doing no good, just settling the rock more thoroughly against his arm.
The next day, day two, Aron reveals his handiness with his manufacturing of a makeshift tourniquet. He uses this as a pulley at first to try and lift the boulder off of him, but it is to no avail so it is used later on to cut off the circulation to his arm so that Aron can plunge a dull knife into his flesh without much pain so that he may drink the blood for sustenance when he runs out of water. To think that a man, when knowledgeable about the fact that he a) Isn’t going to be found and rescued because he’s stuck in a literal hole in the middle of nowhere, b) Knows his hand is no longer going to be any use to him ever again and therefore causes his arm to be essentially useless because what is a hand-less arm, but a long stump?, and c) Knows how and has the tools to seize the blood flow of his arm so that he could cut it off without pain wouldn’t do that far sooner than five days into his situation, if not as soon as possible, is preposterous to me. Of course I can understand one’s attachment to a limb and the trepidation that must come with severing an arm, but it’s either that or die.
But wait, the film hasn’t revealed a tool with which Aron can ablate himself with, so none of this is relevant, right? Well, no, because he does cut off his arm in the final minutes of the film with a cable cutting device that isn’t revealed to the audience until that very moment. So I’m watching the film, annoyed by the visual entropy of it, but understanding as to the man’s dilemma because there’s nothing he can do, until all of a sudden he’s got a tool to cut through his arm with, does so and escapes. It is the single most jarring scene of the year – and not because it’s so realistic that it has caused others to faint, although that scene is handled extremely well and provides a discomfort that (and I’m going to reference it again) Requiem for a Dream provides when Jared Leto’s character has his arm buzzsawed through – because it’s a lot of important information that one must digest in a short period of time, especially cumbersome in juxtaposition to the previous 80 minutes in which very few things happen. I’d say that in accordance to how Aron is projected, the tones, too, are mishandled as no cadence is established; no flow that ties that important scene together with the previous ones in any real way.
There is a humorous bit after Aron cuts his arm off where he takes a picture with of the severed arm. That I really liked (I know I’m getting rather conversational in this, but this is all about my perception of the man so I’ll deal) because it showcased the man’s disillusionment so well and was just a funny thing to watch. So after this scene, he jumps about fifteen feet down from where he is situated, drinks a bunch of disgusting water that is treated as the most pristine beverage Aron has encountered for obvious reasons, and thereafter spots a family of three who rescue him. The end.
But as I sit in my seat and ponder the events that have just transpired, I feel myself grow more and more agitated with the film. That anticlimactic and unreasonable demonstration of Aron escaping when, just a moment prior, I sat thinking there was no logical way for the man to escape outside of a serendipitous moment. The immediate questions that followed such perplexity. Why would he drink his own urine twice over, drink his own blood, dehydrate and starve when a viable escape is in his possession? Why would he wait until the last conceivable moment before cutting off his arm, neglecting to cut off the circulation for an extended period of time whereas if he had done it earlier that would have been a far less painful option? All of the decent work done prior to the irrational final act had to be questioned. There are people that say Sunshine is the most recent film to have been tarnished by an anemic final act – I’d argue that the final act of this diminishes the quality more succinctly and raises more questions instantly than anything Pinbacker aroused in Boyle’s 2007 feature.
So there I sit with a headache from the demonstrably agitating piece of cinema I have just endured. I get angry with what I’ve just seen – with the illogical take on the material Boyle has manifested; with the fundemental problems I have with the protagonist that have been conjured out of nowhere with absolute immediacy; with the fundamental problems I have with the editing of the film, the music of the film, the construction of the film… of the film as a whole. What did I just get from this 90 minute slapdashary? A great leading performance from a more than capable young actor? A few intelligently contrived scenes? A cheeky perpetuation of a theme that mirrors Aron’s hesitance in cutting off his arm – it’s hard to let go? It isn’t hard to let go, but maybe that’s just how I view life – that most things are disposable. But few of those things are more disposable than this film.