I’m having a little trouble processing Danny Boyle’s latest movie. It is the polar opposite to Slumdog Millionaire in terms of scale but it probably has more emotional intensity than a thousand strangled cries of ‘Latika!’ could ever muster. However, I can’t escape the feeling that I’m supposed to care more about its limb-tethered lead than I actually did. But then what do I know? I though Resident Evil: Afterlife was awesome.
The real life story follows cocky outdoorsman Aron Ralston (James Franco) as he ventures out into the wilderness of Utah and promptly finds himself anchored in one spot after a fall leaves his arm trapped under a boulder. For the next 127 hours he struggles with attempts at escape, verges on mental breakdown and descends into regular hallucinatory reveries that act as a kind of personality therapy. It is no secret that he eventually removes his arm with a blunt knife in order to escape, a fact that shrouds the film in an inevitability which screams ‘when is he going to do it?’ rather than ‘will he survive?’.
What makes the film worth watching is Danny Boyle’s unmitigated control over the style of shooting, which makes for some visually stimulating if not entirely coherent sections. A good example might be the point at which we watch piss being drawn upwards from within a drinking straw as Aron gets dehydrated and desperate. It’s stylish and unique, but I got the feeling it was simply style for its own sake. Although perhaps it emphasised the distasteful nature of consuming your own fluids. The filmmakers were obviously worried that the single setting might result in audience fatigue, but the result feels like Trainspotting sans Scottish accents and Ewan McGregor’s winkie.
Franco does an excellent job, seamlessly integrating with the character he is playing, his star status only flaring for the first time we see his face before fading as we become invested in his plight. Aron’s movement from selfishly rugged individual to repentant mummy’s boy is a little predictable and the half-dreams during which he is scrutinised by his collected family and former lovers feel familiar from other films in which near-death experiences are portrayed. Perhaps this is just the nature of Aron’s real-life experience, but when the rest of the film strives to look and feel different to other mainstream productions its moments which lack imagination become highlighted.
I couldn’t help comparing 127 Hours to last year’s Buried, in which Ryan Reynolds was trapped in a box for an hour and a half. The latter film was entirely fictional but it stuck more rigidly to the single-set principle than its successor and was, in my opinion, more tense, engaging and inventive. The fact that we know how Danny Boyle’s film is going to end does dampen its impact a little, while the not knowing gave Buried many more peaks and troughs. 127 Hours casts the audience as a slightly cold observer of Aron’s torture, as passive as the digital camera and camcorder which he uses to document his experience. Buried gave us more reason to empathise with the protagonist and struggle with him towards escape.
I think the key point here is that Aron became trapped out of a kind of twisted choice or perhaps as a result of the destiny bestowed upon him by his inflated sense of self-confidence, which is something he actually contemplates during 127 Hours. He felt like he deserved this punishment and I was inclined to agree. In Buried the incarcerated individual is held against his own will and under circumstances which he cannot control. This is more contrived and perhaps less true to life, but the results satisfied me more.