Friday, November 26, 2010

Man on Film: 127 Hours

At the heart of this film, there are two stars: James Franco and Danny Boyle.  Their respective imprints ultimately inform the entire film.  If you have a problem with either of them, there is a very good chance that you will have a problem with 127 Hours.

Starting with Danny Boyle, there may not be a director out there who uses more stylistic gimmicks than Boyle does.  Split-screens.  Surreal fantasy sequences.  Graphically disturbing gross-out scenes.  Fantasy video game sequences*...

*Sadly, there is no fantasy video game sequence.  Sorry to get your hopes up.

Despite the fact that yet another Boyle film finds itself gimmick-laden, it works.  That's the catch with a Boyle film.  Unlike, say, Michael Bay, where style gets in the way of storytelling, Danny Boyle's films all find a way to actually be augmented and enhanced by the tricks that he uses.  Sure, they are tricky, but these tricks enable Boyle to actually tap into an extra-narrative means of storytelling that few directors utilize.  His films, despite the wide array of genres that he has operated within, are always uniquely Danny Boyle films, and 127 Hours is most definitely a Danny Boyle Joint.

This is a good thing because 127 Hours would be unbearable if there were not a relief from the desperation and claustrophobia.  Without intermittent departures from Aron's dire situation, people would probably be having panic attacks.  As it happens, the guy next to me (and there was only one person in the theater who did this) had to excuse himself after the much-talked-about scene.


Much has been made of 'the scene,' and the hubbub is probably warranted.  After all, we are talking about a man deciding to break his own arm and then cut it off with a dull pocket knife.  The graphic scene has been blamed for causing nausea, vomiting, fainting, genocide in the Darfur Region, and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, but the effect of the sequence cannot be chalked up to just the intrinsically gory nature of severing one's own arm.  No, the violent camera work and the abrasive discordant blare of sound that strikes the viewer's eardrum like a fucking sledgehammer as Aron attempts to cut the nerve in his forearm.

And while the direction in this scene is integral, it is not just Boyle who is responsible for its success.  The scene and the movie would be nothing without James Franco.  From the onset of the film, Franco's work endears Aron Ralston to the audience.  He imbues the role with all the affability, self-reliance, humor, and goofy charm that he can muster, drawing the audience into his shoes with deft skill.  As we are trapped in the crevice with Aron, our sense of empathetic desperation is all the more palpable because of what Franco has done.  With time running out and the chance of rescue becoming increasingly impossible, the stakes are as high as they are for us thanks to Franco.  When he finally emerges, everything about his demeanor would lead us to believe that James Franco actually had to cut his own arm off. 

This isn't all to say that it is just Franco in the 11th Hour that puts this film over the top.  If there is a scene that actually serves as the segment of the film that captures the spirit of the film, it is the faux-talk show he does on his video camera.   Aron's self-deprecating humor is perfectly balanced with his self-awareness.  While the gravity of his situation never goes away, Aron's resilience cut with his goofy disposition pumps the blood through this film, and at no point is this more evident than in this moment.

I suppose it says a lot about a film in which the beginning of the third act consists of the protagonist*, who has been on screen by himself for much of the film, self-amputating the lower third of his right arm in a rather gruesome fashion, yet that scene isn't the one that I find myself thinking about as I close this out.

*A modern Western hero, as I've seen him dubbed elsewhere.

And as if I needed another reason to love this film (and casting James Franco in a role in which he is in 97% of the film was one helluva start, Mr. Boyle), the selection of Sigur Rós's "Festival" at the film's resolution seals the deal, lifting you up and sweeping you away elated and on the verge of tears with Aron.

In short, Boyle and Franco fucking delivered.

Bonus Franco (and yes, these were on the pre-trailer reel that the Alamo put together, but not everyone can go to the Alamo):

R.L. Stine...  Barack Obama...  Gay doctors...  Jesus Christ.

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