The dream team is back everyone. Just two years after they collaborated on Slumdog Millionaire (which won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay), Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy have returned to bring us 127 Hours. They co-wrote the screenplay, based on the true story of Aron Ralston, and Boyle directed this film that is somehow both intensely different and eerily similar to Slumdog Millionaire.
Slumdog Millionaire was very relational. It was a love story at its core, but also about the crucial journey the boy made in order to be a part of that love. It was gripping but also ultimately feel-good — we left the theater feeling touched by life.
I left 127 Hours feeling slightly nauseous and with sympathy pains in my arm. The movie drags you to the very razor’s edge of sanity, leaving you there, breathing hard and clutching the person next to you. It makes you question your strength and willpower as a human being. You ask yourself, “Could I do that if I had to?”
It is not the kind of movie I would ever want to watch multiple times, but it is the kind of movie I was glad I saw. Maybe in a few years I’ll want to revisit the film so I don’t forget the self-questioning I took away from it, but for now I’m glad for it to be a little less vivid in my mind.
At its initial screening, two people reportedly had to be given medical attention. “The scene” — the one where he cuts off his arm with a dull and whittled-down blade — really is that bad. It’s not enough to just close your eyes, because when he gets to the nerve, they make sure you can hear the pain, too.
The similarities between the style of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours are striking though. You can tell from the first scenes, as Aron prepares for his trip and bikes through the gorgeous Utah landscape, that this is a Danny Boyle film–so much so, that after just a few more movies, he could be considered an auteur like Quentin Tarantino or Tim Burton. Just like in Slumdog Millionaire, it has an electric pace as the soundtrack pulses through the film like a heartbeat. The split screens and the vibrant colors make this movie action — even though it’s primarily under a rock. The sheer vision that Boyle must have had to shoot this film makes me question why he wasn’t nominated by the Academy as a director — it’s just as brilliant as his win two years ago, and this time, it really did make the film what it was. Even the trailer reminds us of primarily Boyle’s style.
Going into the film, I had only heard of the dreaded five-minute scene in which the arm is severed and that there were some flashbacks that gave you a better sense of who Aron really was. It’s a lesson that you shouldn’t really go into a film expecting something specific, because the flashbacks weren’t of the Slumdog variety but more hazy, incoherent hallucinations. I definitely felt the film would have been stronger if they were actual scenes instead of hazes. Our background on Aron is all guesswork.
Lastly, the actor who plays Aron, James Franco, has been nominated for Best Actor for this role, and he does deserve it. It’s hard to make five days stuck in a ravine interesting unless you really become vulnerable as the character, and Franco did just that. Reportedly, Boyle’s first choice to play Aron was Cillian Murphy, who you know from Inception and Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise. I have to say that before this movie I was not a big supporter of Franco. Everything about him, from his squint to his ironic facial hair, is a little too pretentious for me. But he proves himself in this film, and Cillian Murphy lost out on a great opportunity. Maybe he can catch the Boyle-Beaufoy train again in two years.