Thursday, March 10, 2011

127 Hours... Of Awesomeness

So I was recently on a man date with one of my homeboys, known to the criminal underworld only as Ryebone, Defiler of Waywad Souls, and I became aware of two things: I was suddenly acutely aware of my extremities, and I was slightly distracted by the size of my friend's penis television.  It was much smaller than normal.  It didn't have the same output.  It wasn't as breathtaking as I had remembered it when it had first been revealed to me in all of its glory.  This is because Rybone recently had a little surgery accident which resulted in a penis transplant damaged TV.  I won't get into particulars as just mentioning it puts our friendship in serious jeopardy because of an explicit warning from the Defiler not to mention it to anyone let alone the single nutcase legions of fans who follow my blog, but suffice it to say his brand new fifty inch plasma TV was inoperable and we were forced to watch 127 HOURS on a thirty-two inch Dynex with a measly 720p resolution.

 I remember hearing a story on the news a couple of years ago (turns out it was actually in 2003) about some dude who was hiking and got his hand trapped under a rock somehow and ended up having to cut off his own arm in order to escape back to civilization and sub-par American health care.  I don't know why, but that story always stuck with me, maybe because it had sparked many drunken debates about whether or not I or my friends would be "hardcore" enough to cut off our own arms to survive.  Turns out that guy was Aron Ralston and he has since written a book about his ordeal (Between a Rock and a Hard Place) and had this movie made about him and all that stuff I just said at the beginning of the paragraph was essentially the plot of the movie.

I'll have to admit hearing about this movie first elicited a "What the Fuck?" response. I just couldn't imagine that there would be enough of a narrative when your main character is trapped under a boulder for about ninety percent of the movie.  Luckily Danny Boyle is a visionary and James Franco turned out to be a decent actor despite all proof to the contrary in the SPIDER-MAN franchise (although to be fair if he was trying to play it over the top in SPIDER-MAN 3 then he succeeded brilliantly.  If.).  This is obviously a character driven film, but if you're asking yourself how 127 HOURS remains engaging for ninety-four minutes, then you should stop reading this and just go watch the fucking movie.  The short answer is that Doyle uses two devices in the movie to construct a narravtive: dreams/hallucinations/memories and a camcorder which Ralston (Franco) uses to record his thoughts and feelings, usually addressed to his parents.  But we'll get to that later.

The biggest enjoyment in watching this movie boils down to asking yourself the question "Would I be able to cut off my own arm in order to survive?"  This enjoyment is amplified exponentially when watching it with a friend.  Then you can really go through the whole dialogue, which essentially comes down to an exchange of three lines:

"Oh my god, that's fucking crazy man!"

"I know.  Hey, dude, do you think that if you were trapped somewhere with you hand under a boulder, or maybe a really fat dead guy, that you would be able to cut your own arm off to survive?"

"No way man. (*insert reasons why you couldn't do it here*)"

I guarantee you no matter who you ask nobody will ever in a gazillion cagillion years will anyone answer "Yes" when you ask them if they would be hardcore enough to cut off their own arm in order to survive.  And if anyone says they can do it they are completely full of shit... unless of course you're talking to Aron Ralston in which case you can give him a pass.  This time.  Now there may actually be other people out there with sufficient steel content in their scrotums to actually cut through their own arm to free themselves in a real survival situation, but this is one question you just can't answer until you're actually in the situation (Much like the eternal conundrum: "Would you agree to live with Andy Dick for the rest of eternity if it meant that every other human being who ever lived would have a perfect life free from disease, discrimination, war and Taco Bell?"  Now, I know your immidiate gut response (after the urge to vomit your own lungs out) is "No," but I know there are some true hard heroes out there who could take an annoyingly effeminate bullet for the good of humankind.).  And if anybody does answer "Yes" then you can be sure that person is completely full of shit and something of a royal prick.

This. of course, is not what the movie itself is about, however it's how most people watch the movie -and survival movies in general- so it's worth mentioning.  I mean, after watching ALIVE, who didn't have a conversation with his buddies about whether or not they could eat each other (in a totally non-gay way of course).  When watching this movie my mind kept going back to high school English class and those archetypes my teachers always gave me to analyse the conflict in a narrative.  You know, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Lesbian Clowns From Outer Space, and all that bullshit.  It occured to me that a lot of people might have gotten the wrong idea, that many viewers might watch 127 HOURS was about Man vs. Nature when it's really about Man vs. Himself.  Normally this type of internal conflict would be boring as shit, but luckily Danny Boyle's direction and James Franco's acting really kept me engaged.

This is where the hallucinations and the video camera come in.  With these narrative devices we are given a look into Ralston's past as he examines the people and decisions he's made in his life so far.  The hallucinations/dreams give the audience insight into his personal life such as the relationship -or lack thereof- with his sister and parents and a failed relationship with an old girlfriend.  Through the video camera Boyle is able to externalize Ralston's internal dialogue in the form of a video diary of sorts intended -for the most part- for his parents but really more for himself.  (There's one particularly memorable scene where Ralston performs  a little play where he acts as an exuberant talk show host interviewing himself.  There's a lot of powerful stuff revealed here in a very comedic way particularly how hard he is on himself like at the end of the conversation:

"Aron Ralston: Now, is it true that despite, or maybe because you're a big fuckin' hard hero, you didn't tell anyone where you were goin'?
Aron Ralston: Uh...yeah. That's absolutely correct.
[Aron as the host] 
Aron Ralston: Anyone? 
Aron Ralston: Anyone
[Aron as the host]
Aron Ralston: Oops!
Aron Ralston: Oops"  )

And this self-dialogue is really the core of the movie.  It's not so much a story of physical survival but of emotional survival.  It's not about a man cutting his arm off -it's about a man's journey to develop the will to cut it off.  It's about self-actualization.  Having his hand trapped by a boulder in the middle of nowhere apparently seemed like a case of life imitating life.  Ironically, this was something (at least according to the movie) he had always strived for in life: isolation.  His flashbacks are all about how he alienated himself from his family and loved ones both physically and emotionally for whatever reason.  Whether he had emotional issues that wouldn't allow him to get close to anyone else or whether he was depressed or whether he was fed up with all the bullshit of having to deal with human beings and he just wanted to be left the fuck alone it's not explicitly mentioned and it doesn't matter.  The problem wasn't other people: the problem was Aron Ralston.  Pushing other people away was a way of pushing himself away, a way of not dealing with whatever emotional issues he had, a way of not dealing with his life.  A path of avoidance.  He was being stretched in two different directions: his personal need to isolate himself from the rest of humanity and the very human need to be with other people.

Eventually, running low on water and growing tired of the taste of his own piss, and of course being scared to death by that bastard Scooby-Doo (you think you're so fucking funny don't you, you son of a bitch?) Aron is faced with the final realization that if he wants to live he has to free himself by cutting off his own arm.  The way he rationalizes this (at least in the movie) is through a strange sense of fatalism:      

"You know, I've been thinking. Everything is... just comes together. It's me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It's entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It's been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I've been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I've taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface."

I can sympathize with this sentiment because during a recent outing to Wendy's I had sort of the same existential epiphany when trying to decide what to order.  It's an interesting way to rationalize cutting off his own arm because really you could use that logic to rationalize anything.  Stealing the Mona Lisa.  Fucking your girlfriend's hotter, younger sister.  Kicking your neighbour's yappy little dog (and by "kicking" I mean "running over repeatedly with my car."  Hypothetically, of course.).  My life has been moving towards this one moment.  In Ralston's case it has a special significance, of course, and is not nearly as frivilous as my examples seem to be.  (The key word being "seem.") In this case he isn't just leaving his arm behind.  He's dropping off his emotional baggage.  In the end Ralston sees his situation as a challenge, not only for himself but to himself by fate.  This is his own personal burden to bear: his own cross.  This is Ralston giving fate a wedgie.  It's like Jesus cutting off both of his arms and escaping from the cross.  (And before you ask, yeah Jesus could cut off both of his arms.  He's fucking Jesus, dude.)  The rock Ralston is trapped under becomes an analogy for all the shit in his life that's weighing him down and preventing him from progressing in his own life.  He has stagnated and his desire to be isolated is a symptom not a cause of his unhappiness.  And Aron Ralston was unhappy.  Despite how he is depicted in the first sixteen minutes of the film -as a happy-go-lucky adventurer- he is obviously very unhappy with his life.  And that's the core of the movie.  A man choosing life.  Choosing to move forward.  This makes sense in the larger sense of the movie as well because it's essentially the final message in TRAINSPOTTING as well.   

Definitely watch 127 HOURS.  It is a fantastic piece of cinema and easily one of the best movies of 2010.  It is a fantastic story of one man's triumphant journey, and also there's the cool scene where he cuts off his arm, which is pretty fucking graphic.  (Wait for the part where he has to cut through his own nerves.  Pure teeth-grinding gold.)  I give 127 HOURS a 9/10 = One Hardcore Outdoorsman's Head Cutting Through His Own Arm But Only After Trying To Masturbate One Last Time Before He Dies   


  1. This movie deserves so much more than to be seen on a 32 inch screen...720p...oh man...