A farewell to arm
Hey, are you feeling a little down about the contents of those lousy vending machines at your day job? Are you pissed off because your car interior smells like bacon for no discernible reason, or because the rent’s due, and you’re not going to be able to afford that pair of shoes with the super-fancy insoles you wanted so damned much?
Well, then, I implore you to witness the story of Aron Ralston, played inspirationally, hilariously and heartbreakingly by James Franco in director Danny Boyle’s brilliant 127 Hours. You won’t feel so bad about the lack of vanilla in your latte after watching this amazing journey.
Ralston was on a day hike in Utah’s Blue John Canyon in 2003 when he slipped into a crevice and wound up with his arm pinned by an 800-pound boulder. With just a little bit of water and food, and no chance for rescue because he failed to inform anybody about where he was going, an over-five-day ordeal ensued.
That ordeal culminated with the self-amputation of his arm using a dull multi-tool, all the time regretting he had left his much sharper Swiss Army knife at home.
The amputation sequence is as grisly a thing put into a movie this year. I’ve seen the actual Ralston recounting the nightmare, with unholy descriptions of intentionally breaking his arm bones and slipping a knife into his dying flesh as if it were “warm butter.” The moment he describes of plucking up a nerve with the knife and snapping it is covered prominently in Boyle’s film. It looks like Franco is snapping a piano wire and, boy howdy, does it hurt to watch.
As disgusting and grueling as the arm severing moment is, it’s also a triumphant one. I found myself rooting for this poor guy as he relieved himself of his arm, which had gone from being a precious, useful limb to an obstacle keeping him from living the rest of his life.
The picture benefits from beautiful cinematography (Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle share camera duties) and an inspirational soundtrack. I’m predicting massive downloads of Dido and Sigur Ros after 127 Hours plays to increased audiences.
With the exception of a few minutes when Aron goofs around with a couple of female hikers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) before getting trapped, Franco does this movie largely solo. It takes a great actor to make a movie about a guy stuck in one place and slowly dying this worthwhile.
As he starts to get a little delirious, Aron starts videotaping himself as though he’s hosting a segment of American Idol from the crevice, just substituting starvation and drinking his own urine for introducing lousy singers. Yes, some of his narration is very funny, but Franco tinges it with a growing, but not completely debilitating, sense of desperation.
As freaked out as Aron is by what’s happening, and what he must make happen, he always maintains a level of control and humor, something Franco conveys beautifully. This film is an example of delivering a pitch perfect performance. Franco commands every moment with a true feeling of authenticity. He not only deserves an Oscar nomination this year—he deserves the damned Oscar.
After seeing this movie, you sure as fuck won’t leave for that future hike without telling somebody where you’re going and bringing along a Swiss Army knife. You’ll also see James Franco as something much more than the hilarious Pineapple Express stoner or the Green Goblin’s bitchy son. He’s a high-caliber actor capable of great things.
And perhaps your thoughts will go out to Aron Rocklin, who managed to turn an absent-minded and admittedly reckless hiking error into one of the more inspiring stories you’re likely to witness.