Movie Review: 127 Hours- Another Genre Specific Masterpiece from Director Danny Boyle that Focuses on Human Perseverance and Our Insignificance to Nature

In the last 15 years director Danny Boyle has established himself as a genre skipper in the realm of cinema moving from moody thriller to a Bollywood influenced drama while being able to make them all incredibly good. There really is no stylistic comparison from Millions or Trainspotting showing the diverse talent that Boyle possesses. After winning the academy award in 2008 for Slumdog Millionaire it really put a light on him to see if his next film would be equally as good. This time around Boyle has adapted the biography of Aron Ralston for his film 127 Hours moving to a film that is claustrophobic, mentally tiring, and incredibly riveting. Ralston made the news after surviving for more than 5 days and eventually cutting off his own arm and is a mind-blowing tale of survival, perseverance, and strength. Boyle utilizes the openness of the human mind, either through hallucinations or mental fatigue, to make his limited setting incredibly diverse allowing a mesmerizing performance from James Franco to ignite our sympathies, fears, and hopes. This film about the unforgiving state of nature and how we are merely an ant in comparison to nature’s size and apathy could be a revealing film against some of the more idealistic and pantheistic views on nature shared in say Sean Penn’s adaptation of Into the Wild. 127 Hours is another film to add to Boyle’s dissimilar filmography and touts his strengths in cinematography, sound design, acting, and a truly riveting tale of survival.

Simon Beaufoy, who won the academy award for Slumdog Millionaire for the screenplay, returns to adapt Aron Ralston’s biography alongside Danny Boyle himself. The script is one filled with remarkable set simplicity yet delves into the complexity of the human mind and its willingness to imagine, fear, and hope. When we meet Aron he is packing up his gear for his trip to Utah with various shots of the things he casually puts in his bag but doesn’t really understand their importance such as water or a pocket knife. Aron is someone who took nature for granted and got too comfortable with his surroundings claiming it as a second home. Reality strikes in the harshest of ways as a boulder comes loose and pins his right arm against a cave wall. What’s so enthralling about the film is that the setting is so confined and our closeness to Aron’s situation heightens our experience with the sights, sounds, and inevitable mental frustration and fatigue that occurs to Aron. Reality and fantasy begin to blur when Aron’s mental state begins to deteriorate and becomes incessantly more dehydrated, which is handled remarkably well in the script as a structure of presenting his thought process and survival decision making. It’s difficult to know a film’s climax before it actually occurs but that’s similar to being surprised that the Titanic hits an iceberg in A Night to Remember or Titanic. Everything leading up to the final moment of that drastic but essential survival decision puts us more in the moment keeping us hooked to our lead actor, James Franco, who marvelously balances the film with charm, subtlety, and felt emotion.

The claustrophobic atmosphere seems as though it could be a daunting task to keep audiences interested but cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire) and Enrique Chediak (Charlie St. Cloud) handle their surroundings extremely well. Their ability to capture Aron’s physical and mental states through visuals is particularly impressive and truly gives the film a lively pace and intriguing artistic delivery. The shots that include ants to symbolize Aron’s smallness in the wilderness serve as piece of symbolism that is equal to the beard on the man in Jack London’s “How to Build a Fire.” This is also portrayed when there are extreme long shots from where Aron is trapped showing how vast and alienating his surroundings are, which keeps the audience worrisome of our protagonist. Utilizing the camera as a tool of the human mind to escape to imagined places, hopes for a rainstorm to bring water, or even premonitions of a family yet to have shows Boyle’s extremely rare sensibilities as a filmmaker and being able to connect a film experience with that of the human condition. 127 Hours is quite intense in all of its elements, but is all handled tactfully and never exaggerated for effect, which includes the climactic amputation scene.

Some might worry about how they might react or hide away from the scene that contains Aron Ralston’s infamous self-amputation but the reality is the scene is visually tolerable. It’s the sound design that makes the experience incredibly artistic and unsettling as each nerve cut resonates like a post-explosion and Ralston’s screams are drowned out from the subjective pain that is being related to the audience. All of the technical aspects of 127 Hours are an example of how all of the elements of a film need to come together to bring a fully rounded film to life. There’s not a single aspect to 127 Hours that could be considered weak from a filmmaker’s standpoint, utilizing every tool to bring Ralston’s subjective experience to life. However, it is Franco’s performance that is the linchpin in this powerful film of human survival. It’s a tour de force performance, one that keeps us involved in all of his decisions, mental and physical pain, and his mental escapes to places that are real and imaginary. Without his presence as a charming although reckless individual than we wouldn’t be able to willingly follow him through this mental and physical ordeal. Perhaps those that are infatuated with nature can learn a thing or two from 127 Hours, which shows that taking nature for granted or thinking that one can be equally a part of nature is thinking too idealistically. Nature is impersonal and not understanding so our insignificance is the same as an ant on this earth. Luckily the perseverance of the human spirit allowed Ralston to survive and inevitably have a family, which is the truly satisfying end to an incredibly unique survival triumph.

Danny Boyle’s talents as a director who can jump from genre to genre is extremely rare and can be witnessed through such great film experiences such as Sunshine, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later, and now his latest 127 Hours. This claustrophobic yet extremely imaginative film about the survivalist struggle of Aron Ralston has many layers as a film that shows our insignificance to nature and the depths of human perseverance. As Aron emerges from the cave there is a light that consumes him in blinding fashion showing a man who has become reborn in his casual view of nature. This horrific yet inevitably satisfying journey is technically and emotionally well done through Boyle’s rare sensibilities as a filmmaker, utilizing every element at his disposal to make the strongest possible film he can. In the genre of survival or even the genre of a biography picture, 127 Hours will stand up as a monumental success of cinema that will continue to fascinate and connect with audience’s many years from now showing Boyle’s ability to transcend time through his substance filled stories.

Grade: A

One Response to “Movie Review: 127 Hours- Another Genre Specific Masterpiece from Director Danny Boyle that Focuses on Human Perseverance and Our Insignificance to Nature”
  1. Juan Carlos says:

    Such as with any Coen Brothers movie, I think you have a favoritism towards Boyle’s films. It was an interesting movie but not A material. Slumbdog was better, even though
    I hated it.

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