|James Franco in 127 Hours|
As for the rest of you, who’ve survived the experience, this should bring back more memories than one – some of them sweet, some not so. But most of you would agree on one thing – that you’d think twice, before using a phrase like ‘I’d give my right arm for it’. I mean, really? Would you? What are the things in world that would compel you to forsake your arm? And I am not talking about merely forsaking. I am talking about forsaking in the sacrificial sense. What is the worth of an arm? How big should something be in order for you to give your arm away, just so you can own the so-called big thing? Would you do it for love? Or would you do it for money? Or maybe, would you do it just for a shot at being alive?
Questions like these and more are sure to have hounded Aron Ralston, the mountaineer, whose real-life survival story inspired 127 Hours, Danny Boyle’s latest, fat-free, no-frills, lean-meat-of-a-movie offering. I know, the first and almost perpetually lingering question is (for most audiences, at least), whether it’s a worthy follow-up from the man, who gave the world Slumdog Millionaire. I personally would find myself at a loss for words if the question were posed to me. That’s partly because Danny’s oeuvre is far and varied and his influences multi-hued. His perceptions about life, death, spirituality and beyond cannot be straitjacketed into a quantifiable categorical mold.
Having said that let me cut straight to the chase. The film blasts off full steam with a storytelling device, I have seen Danny use very sparsely in his movies. At least, that’s my interpretation, if memory serves me right. A triple-layer split screen with a smattering of colors so bright, it’s almost sumptuous – an overhead view of a stadium brimming over with testosterone-fueled fans roaring with passion. Enter protagonist Aron Ralston played by a cheery James Franco, an engineer from Utah, for whom mountaineering is a passion bigger than anything, and everything else in the world. Less than two minutes into the film and he sets on his journey for yet another rock climbing adventure.
Set to the keys of a pulsating soundtrack, Aron blazes away from his home in his pickup truck in the dead of the night, passing by prominent road signs (read branding, considering the comparatively low budget of the film). Soon, he’s dirt biking his way into the canyons, but not before spectacularly crashing at one juncture. As opposed to most people, who would cringe at the impact, Aron, entirely in his element, flips out his camera and clicks a self-portrait, to serve him for posterity. On the way, he also encounters two lovely ladies, mountaineers in their own right, who learn a lesson or two about free falling, skinny dips in the canyons.
Having bid them goodbye, Aron continues his onward journey, trespassing precarious terrain, in the recesses of the canyons. It’s here that Aron encounters what he refers to as his ‘Oops’ moment. As fate would have it, while navigating a particularly narrow precipice, deep in the mountains, a boulder decides to descend on him. Fortunately, instead of crushing him to death, it chooses to pin him down by jamming itself between two mountain walls with his right arm inconveniently sandwiched between a rock and a really hard place – another rock face, actually.
Danny decides this is just the right time to show us the title of the film. And with good reason too.
For, this is where the film really starts.
It didn’t dawn on me until much later after the film, as to what Danny had set out to accomplish. No doubt, it is a hard task – to make a movie about a protagonist, trapped by a boulder with absolutely no way to climb out. But what lifts this human drama out of the ordinary is a breathtaking performance by James Franco, who is ably aided by the technical and artistic wizardry of Danny and his team. What strikes you more than anything else is Aron’s resilience and his inherent epiphany - that what just happened, could not have happened any other way. He is flamboyant, even in his fall and tries to find humor in the situation that he has gotten himself into – with help from a video camera and the subsequent tapings, no less.
What’s even more beguiling is that almost the entire film is shot from Aron’s point of view. At no time, are we left to the mercy of ruminations, courtesy secondary characters. This ensures we are willing and equal participants in Aron’s journey, whether we can take it or not.
Keen followers of Danny’s work would notice the usual directorial flourishes that have been carried over from his previous works. Shooting within a tight and claustrophobic set, the director induces a sense of unease. Few shots were reminiscent of his highly underrated sci-fi spectacle Sunshine, which required Cillian Murphy to don a solar-mission spacesuit, replete with a gold-plated helmet and overalls. While that movie explored inter-personal conflict set in the vast expanse of outer space and was a trippy figment of imagination, Aron’s tale is a real-life story, which makes the apprehensions of the protagonist even more palpable, and sometimes, plain unbearable.
We are witness to confessions of his indiscretions, his irresponsibility, his loves, his fears, his shortcomings, all of which plays inside his mind. And it’s these memories that inspire him to do whatever it takes to emerge victorious and alive.
A certain shot that did catch my fancy was one featuring Aron struggling to ingest the final few drops of water from his canister during his ordeal. The camera literally travels into the canister, a cool UV blue-lit chamber lined with little droplets, which marked a stark contrast to the infamously grimy, foreign particle-laden syringe of heroine that the protagonist of Trainspotting, Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor) forces through his veins in the latter film. There are several split screen scenes in 127 Hours, some of them, which I didn’t consider necessary. But, I believe, they might have served the purpose of offering a lot more to look at, considering that the narrative was sparse at best.
The soundtrack, a revelation by AR Rahman, is at several junctures, transcendent. Some tracks are so rife with life that you are pushed to the brink of an auditory explosion of happiness. Pay attention to a particular ‘groupie’ scene and a rain sequence. The soundtrack in these segments rises to a crescendo, which supplements the story brilliantly. Personally, I was in awe of the sound design, which recreated echoes and silences on a pitch perfect note. The cinematography is laudable on several fronts – from endowing a sense of realism to the proceedings to capturing the untamed vistas of Utah in a grandiose and color-rich format. Many of the light-and-shadow games are too beautiful to explain in words.
Of course, all this exposition would barely serve its purpose if I weren’t to delve on Aron’s liberation. You can take my word for it - it is hard on the eyes and even harder on the heart. And, it’s meant to be. But just think about it. If it’s traumatizing enough for you to simply sit through a cinematic recreation of it, how hard would it have been for Aron to bring himself to do it? The scene in question is uncompromisingly graphic and does not flinch from showing what the audiences were expecting from the word go (although I flinched on several occasions). Coupled with amplified sound effects, you can expect a visceral assault on the senses.
In my case, even before the closing credits began appearing, I found myself questioning what would have I done? A friend said she might have just given up. Another buddy said he’d go the Aron way. No matter how I spun it around in my head, I couldn’t answer that question. I even tried arguing with my friend that we’d never embark on something as adventurous as what Aron had, in order to be confronted with a peril as life-threatening as this. It was at this point that she mirrored Aron’s epiphany and quoted him saying, “That rock was waiting for me – all my life. In fact, it was waiting for me even before I was born.”
We all have a rock in waiting – for us.
This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by wogma.com and reviewgang.com