127 Hours (2010)

People derive enjoyment from some sick stories. While some snub their noses at those horrible punks who watch all those degrading horror movies, they’re often attracted to tales just as gruesome, revolting and shocking. Sometimes its war pictures, other times its action flicks and occasionally it’s arthouse cinema. you had to be a bit messed up to want to watch 127 Hours.

The film recount of the real life story of Aron Ralston—played in the film by James Franco—who was trapped in a canyon after a boulder smashed his arm. That alone requires a sick fascination, a desire to engage in someone else’s pain for pleasure. But it goes even farther because most everyone who goes to see this movie knows it’s the film about the guy who cuts his arm off. Now maybe it’s just me, but that’s a really messed up story for anyone to willingly initiate in watching.

So why did people go see this film? What is it about this grizzly tale that makes us fascinated? Why is it that a population that rarely thinks about pure survival is attracted to a film predicated on a man’s struggle to live? I as this more out of genuine curiosity because I simply don’t know what it is that made people attracted to this film.

Personally, I’ve always had a fascination with the tales of survival, where each items becomes an essential means of getting by. When Aron lays out his gear on the bolder, I’m assessing the choices, weighing the possibilities of how each item can be used. It goes back to my love of Robinson Crusoe, which spends a good amount of time listing items, and my years in the Boy Scouts.

And yet the entire film we know what has to happen, how it must all end. The buildup to that moment becomes excruciating as we are dragged into that canyon with Aron. As he is subject to delusions, dehydrations, chills and endless frustration, we empathize with his predicament and want his escape, want the endless pain to end.

Therefore, by the time the graphic violence comes, it’s not grotesque or indulgent, but a moment of pure catharsis. We need to feel the knife plunge, to see the nerve snap, to experience that one last climax of pain before the release. It’s still disgusting (although not nearly as graphic as I expected), but it’s also a relief, allowing the audience, and Aron, to sigh with relief after the moment passes.

As well as this all works, as fantastic as the buildup and release is, the film suffers from being overproduced. Director Danny Boyle is too showy Split-screens, fast edits, ridiculously over the top moments of testosterone infused action make a lot of this film seem as if it was shambled together by a couple of action addicted bros who discovered the special effects options in Final Cut Pro.

But by the end the film has been such an exhausting and powerful journey, on a psychological and emotional level that I couldn’t help but somehow walking out of the theater feeling as if I’d lived through the moments I just saw on screen. Coupled with the sublime ending, that it’s probably the best I’ve felt coming out a film all year. Maybe that’s why we seek out these films, maybe even though it’s a masochistic act there’s something about that triumph of simple survival that makes living satisfying.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing