Before going in for the film, I wondered how Danny Boyle would handle a single focal incident and stretch it over a full-length feature. There’s no other character, it’s a dark canyon in the middle of nowhere. Based on Aron Ralston’s horrific experience, it can be narrated in one short sentence – man explores canyon, gets trapped by a boulder, survives by cutting his arm off. Turning that into a gut-wrenching work that makes for fascinating viewing, 127 hours defies the traditional trappings of storytelling and genre. The director moves you into the mind of a loner who documents his life and his misfortune with equal elan. He welcomes insane risks just as easily as he revels in surviving them.
One sidelight was the roar of approval when James Franco, playing Aron Ralston, blames the poor quality of the Chinese knife that cannot get past his skin. Whether Chinese goods are good or not, the perception is still that they are cheap rip-offs. But then, the whole theatre went quiet when the bloodletting started. There’s the collective experience of the mesmeric when 300-400 others in the hall are caught up in the same experience. No shuffling, no coughs or yawns, no catcalls, even when Franco gags on his own urine. The feeling of being trapped in an impossible situation – in this case, physical, is something everyone can relate to.
The continuity is brilliant with stubble appearing gradually over the 5 days that it plays out on and Franco brings out the essence of the character, driven by the motivation to simply get away from it all on every weekend before returning to the mundane. In most movies, there are times when your mind drifts. This is not one of them. I wasn’t thinking of deadlines or what I was going to do the next day. It’s a tribute to the director’s and the scriptwriter’s skills when they manage to get you to put your life on hold while the film unfolds. That’s no mean achievement in today’s attention deficit sensory overload.