By Skip Sheffield
How strong is the human will to live?
It is no coincidence that “127 Hours” is being released at Thanksgiving time. After you see this short (95 minutes) but gruelling and intense film you can’t help but feel grateful to be safe and alive.
“127 Hours” is based on the personal memoir “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston.
Never has a cliché been so true.
Ralston, played by a buff and toned James Franco, was a guy who never played it safe. He was an adrenalin junkie, looking for ever more intense and dangerous thrills.
On April 25, 2003, Ralston set off on an adventure Utah’s gorgeous, remote Blue John Canyon. At the outset Ralston broke two cardinal rules of hiking/mountain climbing: never venture into the wilderness alone. If you are foolhardy enough to disregard that stark warning, at least notify friends and family what you are up to and where you are going.
Ralston was no doubt used to people warning and scolding him about his risky behavior, and he probably figured everyone would try to talk him out of his foolhardy adventure.
So off he went, with enough provisions for only a day in the desert.
English director Danny Boyle, who co-wrote the script with “Slumdog Millionaire” collaborator Simon Beaufoy, knows how to stretch a basically static, one-man drama into a gripping, discomforting and at times quite lovely and contemplative tale of survival.
We see Aron, then 28, frolicking with a couple college babes, showing them a secret swimming hole deep in a crevasse and daring them to jump.
The girls are jazzed after swimming and so is Aron as he heads off grinning into the rugged, mountainous terrain.
Then it happens. While testing a large boulder for stability it suddenly shifted, rolled, and left his right forearm wedged between the proverbial rock and a hard place, where Aron will remain lodged for the 127 hours of the title.
With just one bottle of water and a couple energy bars, one has to go to extreme lengths to hold off starvation, dehydration and exhaustion.
“127 Hours” is not a film for the squeamish. The scenes of Aron’s anguish and increasing desperation are interspersed with flashbacks to happier times, which also serve to show the viewer how Ralston came to be the daredevil he is. If there is anything certain in the 2011 Oscar race, it is that James Franco will be up for Best Actor. Franco is certainly not just another pretty face. A highly intelligent scholar and workaholic in real life, Franco is just the actor to capture the bravado, pain and repentance of Aron Ralston. When it comes to the fateful scene in which Ralston snaps the major radius and ulna bones in his right arm, the pain is palpable. The hacking away of the flesh with a cheap, dull, Chinese-made multi-purpose tool is agonizing to watch. In an ironic touch, director Boyle makes a point of showing that Ralston had a sturdy Swiss Army knife back in his truck, which would have made the job much easier.
Because of his pain, endurance and refusal to lie down and die, Aron Ralston is now a successful author and motivational speaker, married, with his first child. And oh yes, he still climbs mountains.
So if you need a jolt of inspiration in this season, and you can take the shock of harsh reality, “127 Hours” should do the trick.