127 Hours

I saw the movie 127 Hours last night with some friends. I liked it. Scenic cinematography, creative editing, keeps moving, excellent acting by James Franco, and a gripping story. I give it a B+.

I do have some bias. The film was shot in the canyon country of Utah, a place I've visited many times. The film also features canyoneering, something I was heavily into for 3 years and very much enjoy. In fact, I've hiked parts of Bluejohn Canyon 3 times. I also read Aron Ralston's book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Spoiler Alert - I'm going to comment on the film below.

Aron did ride his mountain bike to where he dropped into the canyon, and he did crash once, but pretty sure he stayed on the road. I don't think there are any big stretches of slickrock to ride out there. Still, it was fun to see a good stand-in rider ripping it up a bit on a bike.

"The Dome" doesn't exist. There are many slot canyons where you have to stem up off the ground, but very few have water underneath and none have pools of clear water. The water in canyons is muddy at best and usually scummy, sometimes with a floating rotting carcass. Canyoneering is not for germaphobes. The pool in the film is actually the crater pool at the Homestead in Midway. Some have complained about the film taking this fictitious detour to "The Dome", but I was OK with it because there are some magical hidden places out in canyon country and they are worth the effort to see.

The book kept me engaged during Aron's 6 days stuck in the canyon, but I wondered how the film would keep it interesting. I thought Danny Boyle (also directed Slumdog Millionaire) and James Franco did an excellent job showing Aron's attempts to free himself, his video-tapped messages to family, his daydreams / hallucinations / memories. Some scenes may have gone a bit long, but I was never bored.

There is no narration conveying Aron's thoughts, just acting. Cody Clark (review here), the critic for the Daily Herald felt this was a mistake. In general I like Boyle's call here because with no voice-over you are more fully aware of the silence and emptiness of the canyon. However it does mean the viewer doesn't know exactly what Aron was thinking.

Narration is most missed when Aron finally figures out how he can break the bones in his arm to get free. This was a high point in the book - Aron reported that it filled him with hope. In the movie the impact of this moment is lost.

The amputation scene was hard to watch. It was graphic. I've seen worse gore, but it's more distant - in this film you can't help put yourself in Aron's place and wonder if you could cut off your own arm. It's more personal. I was determined to watch it, but it was uncomfortable. I had to tell myself it was just surgery. Watching the amputation impacted me more than reading it - seeing left little doubt what amputation entailed.

Back in 2003 when this happened to Aron and I heard the story, I thought about what I'd do in that situation. To be honest, I'm not sure I could have cut off my arm. It would be so easy to keep telling yourself that someone would come along and you'd be saved from having to cut off your arm.

The high point of the movie for me was when Aron made the last cut and staggered back from place he had been stuck for 6 days. The feeling of freedom was strong and poignant.

This wasn't the end, Aron still had to scramble down the rest of the canyon, rig his rope and rappel over 100 feet down into Horseshoe Canyon - one handed. The film handled this well.

At the end of the rappel was a pool of turbid water which he immediately drank from since he ran out of water days ago. I heard some audiences had almost as much difficulty with this scene as with the amputation. Really? If you've ever been truly thirsty you know you'd drink any water in this situation.

The end of the film was moving. Seeing the real Aron Ralston with his wife and young son the message is unmistakable - you are only seeing this scene because Aron did something very difficult and he very well could have died. Life is precious.


Nate K. said...

I really want to see this. Your comments make me want to see it more now.

Dave said...

I saw it last night as well, thought it was great. The cool thing about the filming of this was they did almost all the filming in the Granite Furniture building in Sugarhouse where they recreated the blue john canyon and shot it all from a set in SLC. Very cool movie, great acting by James

Joshua said...

Loved the movie. I had seen the special report about the story with Tom Brokaw, so that filled in a lot of the blanks for me.
I thought The elation Franco showed after breaking his arm explained things pretty well.
And the guitar scrape sound when he got to that big nerve was perfect.
Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

THX, on my "to see list now".
From what I see of canyon riders from fatty's blogroll I think you can answer the question "...in Aron's place and wonder...could you cut off your arm ?"
As example the guy on fatty's site that had a stick slice through his leg, then rode 20+ miles back to civilization.
And then the woman with the seriously broken leg. That was dang close ! OOPS that was your wife...what can I say y'all are tough...true grit and great to read about. My helmet off as y'all ride by and I'll ring the cow bell too.

Anonymous said...

I remember when the story first came out in 2003, read the book, saw tom brokaw interview, and saw the movie when it came out. It has always fascinated me, and I loved the movie and book. Danny Boyle did an awesome job capturing the beauty of that area and the anguish, fear, introspection, and elation of Aron. I've visited the canyonlands area many times, though I'm not a canyoneer. Still love to explore the hikes and canyons that I can minus rapelling skills. Was looking for the "dome" on the map and glad I saw your blog that it doesn't exist in that area :-). Saved me time trying to find it. Getting ready to go to Utah again next week. Looking at canyons near Valley of the Gods. Rock Canyon is looking interesting.