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Archive for January, 2011

After a bit of rummaging around the internet and some helpful reader emails (who knew people were so interested in the fate of the abandoned arm?!) I believe I have the answers to the  key questions from my review of 127 Hours – and some extra.

1)   The real-life footage of Aron Ralston trapped in the canyon still exists. Ralston has shown it to his family, and to James Franco to help him prepare for the role, as Franco explains in an interview here, describing the experience as “very intense, very moving… he doesn’t know there’s a happy ending.” You can actually see a teensy snippet of the actual footage in this interview as well.

2)   So, LOTS of you wanted to know about the arm’s whereabouts…  The arm is actually no more. It was retrieved following Ralston’s escape and cremated. Ralston then returned to the boulder six months later  to scatter the ashes.

3)      Another question that readers have asked is how long it actually took Ralston to cut his arm off (morbid, anyone?). The answer, according to an interview with Ralston, is 40 minutes, although Boyle shows it in about five.

4)      For those of you who want to know more about the real Ralston, there is a fascinating video of his return to the boulder here. If you thought the film was shocking, prepare to be revolted and moved in equal measure (the phrase “like sliding it into a pat of warm butter” will stick in my mind forever).

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Review: 127 hours

I never thought I’d be capable of cutting off my own arm until I saw Danny Boyle’s 127 hours. Of course, I’d talked about it before seeing the film, in that safe kind of way that people do at dinner parties.  “Oh, I could maybe, just maybe, do it if it was just the hand. And if I had a chainsaw.” But I didn’t really believe it. I thought death would seem like a better option than agonizing self-mutilation.

 But what you don’t get at a dinner party – and what Boyle gives us in spades – is time. Long, agonizing days of desperation, where it’s just one man, a rusty old pocket knife (he has left his Swiss army knife at home) and the inevitability of a painful drawn-out death. “Time is moving really slowly now,” says Aron, who has by this time been stuck for four days in a Utah canyon with his forearm trapped underneath a boulder. He’s tired, he’s hungry and he’s so thirsty he started to drink his own urine (“Tastes like a bag of piss,” he jokes to the camcorder he’s using to document his own demise, in one of several very welcome moments of light relief).

And it’s this that makes Boyle’s film so brilliant. He takes the one element that should have made this film logistically impossible – the fact that Aron is stuck for five days on his own before he even commits the pivotal and now infamous act that frees him – and makes a virtue of it. Without the five days, Aron would not be able to work up the courage to sever his own nerve tissue (in a scene that though entirely expected is still utterly shocking – and spectacularly filmed); without five days he would not reach the state of delirious hopelessness that makes him cry out in ecstasy at the first cut, as the dream of freedom becomes a reality.

This is not a film about physical horrors or even, like the excellent Touching the Void, about what mankind is capable of. It’s a film about redemption. Gradually, the arrogant boy we saw earlier, who doesn’t need anything from anyone – and who has consequently neglected to tell anyone where he is going – comes face to face with his own selfishness.  In a climactic moment towards the end he finally shouts: “I need help” – and it is now, Boyle seems to say, that he is truly free. 

James Franco conveys the transformation superbly, morphing slowly from happy-go-lucky lone wolf to lonely repentant. Like the real Aron Ralston (who has said the film is as close to a documentary as a drama is capable of being, including in its portrayal of the tragedy as his salvation) he is practical and resigned, not least about his own stupidity.

Some of the hallucinations and flashbacks that illustrate Aron’s changing psychological state do feel a tad gimmicky (typical of Boyle –remember Leonardo di Caprio’s video-game inspired exile in The Beach?). But one wonders if there was any better way of doing them.  In any case, these moments are more than made up for by the pace, humour and quite staggering beauty of the landscape, a character in itself, that is both magnificent and deadly.

Boyle’s skill in turning a tale of loss into one of gain, of isolation into one of humanity, is unparalleled.  And it really does make losing a limb look like something we would all gladly face, if only we found enough will to live.  After leaving the cinema I felt exhausted but suddenly quite confident that the prize (a happy ever after) would make the pain more than worth it. Although next time I go climbing I will definitely take my best pen knife. 

*Just a couple of questions up for discussion:
1) What happened to the real-life footage that Aron took on his camcorder?
2) What happened to the arm?! Is it still there?

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