127 Hours (Contains Spoilers)

Getting the year started off with some brilliant films is always a good sign of cinema to come throughout the rest of the year. So trust me when I say that seeing 127 Hours as the first cinema offering of the year means that I have officially set the bar high for other films!

127 Hours is the latest offering from Danny Boyle who, for those of you out there unfamiliar with this name (shame on you…) has also directed landmark films as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and more recently the highly successful Slumdog Millionaire. Personally, I thought that Boyle would have a hard time following up Slumdog Millionaire with something as equally hard-hitting and thought provoking, but amazingly this retelling of true events manages to do exactly that.

127 Hours is the true story of extreme mountain climber/explorer/canyoneer Aron Ralston who, whilst trekking across Blue John Canyon in Utah on a day no-one knew where he had gone, fell down a 65 foot crevice and a rock trapped his arm against the canyon wall. With limited supplies, dwindling amounts of water and a single video camera, Aron Ralston has to survive 5 days trapped between a rock and a hard place before he managed to free himself and scale back up the wall and trek over 8 miles before he was rescued. 127 Hours recalls these events with incredible accuracy and in such a way that you empathise incredibly strongly with James Franco’s quite honestly amazingly human performance as Aron Ralston.

James Franco apparently wasn’t the first choice for the role of Aron Ralston, but the fact that he does an amazing performance with reactions to the situations he find himself in with incredible humanity is a testament to his capturing of the personality. The fact that you see Ralston interact with people he meets at the start of the film manages to set up what kind of person he is before “the accident” happens. When he meets Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), you manage to get a sense of what drives this person to do such extreme exploring, and it’s this interaction that sets up certain personality changes and mental states later in the film. When “the accident” occurs, its sudden and shocking which is effective as you then start feeling everything Ralston feels from that point, and its only at that point (20 minutes into the actual film) that the title shows and signals the start of the clock for how long Ralston is trapped there for.

As you would expect, to start with Ralston tries everything he can to escape – lifting, pushing, screaming, swearing and eventually reverts back to how he was and becomes very calculating, laying out everything that he has on him on the rock and starts formulating a plan. Because we already have the sense that this is what he knows more about than anything else, you get the sense that he is more likely to figure something out than any average person would be able to. And that is confirmed when you see him create a crude pulley system to try and hoist the rock away, and though this doesn’t work it is still explained why it hasn’t.

And that is one thing that makes 127 Hours more interesting to watch than it otherwise would – the dynamic story-telling technique of Ralston documenting the events over the 5 days he is trapped onto a video camera, which apparently is exactly what Ralston did in real life. This technique allows the audience to better understand what is happening in Ralston’s mind during the days that he is trapped for and almost becomes a direct link between Ralston and the audience, talking directly to them.

This, after a while, becomes slightly unsettling as although Ralston manages to keep it together and perhaps fares better than anyone else would in his situation because of his training, you do see him slip slowly away from a sound mental state and start to lose it a little every so often. You become a part of all his imaginings and his hallucinations along with him, which better brings you into what he is going through. This doesn’t exactly happen quickly, but more builds up slowly as his supplies slowly run out, but that’s what resorting to drinking your own urine does to someone.

It’s the point at which the rain comes and starts creating a torrent through the cavern Ralston is trapped in that things start to truly turn, as you see him manage to escape from the rock and make it back to civilisation, and all the way through this sequence you want it to be true even though you already know how he really gets out.

What I perhaps found most effective throughout 127 Hours was how sounds and music are used. We already know how effectively Danny Boyle can use the smallest elements of a scene to create something bigger, but the fact that each song from the soundtrack matched the scenes and the action perfectly made it that much more interesting to watch. But so much more than that is the use of the sounds in each scene – every little sound in emphasised to create a different sense of the surroundings, everything from him drinking and swallowing water, to cracking his wrist after working, to rubbing his skin and lips and using his equipment. It these elements that help create the strong sense of being truly alone throughout the film.

When the time finally comes for Ralston to take drastic measures in order to escape, there is no hiding the fact of what he has to do. Things he has done throughout the film lead up to him cutting off his own arm with a crappy penknife no less, and it’s the use of sound again in this scene that makes it even more gripping and worrying at the same time. Every crunch of bone and cutting of skin is heard and emphasised, and even when he reaches a nerve the sounds of feedback accentuate what he must feel as he cuts through it. This sound itself reminded me of playing “Operation”, and made it feel as though he was cutting an electrical wire inside his own arm, which frankly is enough to set my teeth on edge and everyone else’s too!

The good thing about 127 Hours is throughout the film you know that Aron doesn’t die, because he made it out to write a book and have this film made about him. But that doesn’t stop you from second-guessing what might happen and finding yourself concerned that actually, he might not make it out at all, and that’s mostly down to the fact that you start believing what Aron himself believes. But when he does make it out and finds help, after saying a fairly ironic “Thank you” to the rock that trapped him for 5 solid days, you feel this overwhelming sense of relief that he finally made it out and can go see his family again.

Danny Boyle knows how to tell a story full of humanity, and there’s no denying that fact. What he’s done with 127 Hours is take a fairly straightforward premise where, potentially, not very much could happen (he was trapped in one place for 5 days) and turned it into a study of humanity and the human mind, and how one man can fight against elements, overwhelming odds and even his own mental state to prevail and come out the other side still alive.

127 Hours is a great story, well told, and as such I’m giving it a huge 8 out of 10 for being a great start to a year of cinema!



  1. Wow really great description of the movie. Good point about the audience and the camera.

    • Thanks, I thought it should be mentioned as it was a very clever dynamic in the film. Added that extra factor of being part of the action rather than absorbing it, which made the film feel more real.

  2. This was a great review, and I still wonder if he said thank you to the rock in real life and what happened to the footage he recorded. I hated hearing the bones snap! Eek!! The sound was amazing. It was a good movie to begin 2011 with, and good company 🙂

    • Well, apparently, Aron Ralston did actually record all the footage in the same way it happened in the film, and it is locked away in a bank vault somewhere and only friends and family are allowed to see it, but Danny Boyle and James Franco were allowed to watch it before they made the film. So I’m assuming that he either took it with him when he managed to get out or, if it was like the film, they went back for all his stuff later. I loved watching this film, and the company was brilliant too!

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