Obviously, this one isn’t for the faint of heart. Everyone knows by now (considering it’s based on a true story from 2003) that Aron Ralston escaped from the boulder trapping his hand for five days by cutting it off at the forearm. The film does not cut away from this moment, and shows the entire amputation in great detail. One specific instance involving a nerve actually forced me to look away, which is quite the achievement, as I feel I’ve become generally desensitized over the years. With that said, this is a challenging film. The vast majority of it consists of watching James Franco trapped by a boulder in a canyon. By himself. It’s claustrophobic, to say the least. It’s also a fascinating character portrayal, as Franco’s Ralston starts things out pretty calm and collected, knowing he has a good amount of food and water for the immediate future and should be able to get himself out of this. It’s the slow realization that there was no easy way getting out combined with the emerging panic that he is legitimately looking at the possibility of his own death.
This film hinges entirely on James Franco, and he’s equal to the task. His experience is peppered with flashbacks and hallucinations, some moments seem real before the wool is pulled out, others are actively fabricated. He records video diaries that start with a matter-of-fact tone and quickly devolve into madness. One particular moment plays out with him as a guest on a talk show in his thirst addled mind, which is a shot of explosive humor and sound amid the silence and occasional screams. What’s interesting about the film, the structure, the acting choices, the way Danny Boyle approaches the character and the story, is that it’s not designed to be particularly inspirational. Ralston isn’t portrayed as heroic, but instead as what he truly is, a survivor. There is no fabricated tear stained girlfriend wondering where he disappeared to leading to an emotional reunion. There isn’t even a musical cue when he escapes. Just silence as he staggers back, not fully comprehending that he just saved himself from certain death. It’s a long shot from the usually hyperactive Boyle, and it’s exactly what was needed to sell the moment as something special and perhaps inspiring, but not in a movie cliché sort of way. I’m still not completely sold on Boyle’s work; I don’t consider myself a fan of Trainspotting or Millions and (probably because of that) still haven’t seen 28 Days Later or Slumdog Millionaire, but the work he did here was really good. So I might have to dig a little deeper. More than worthy of a viewing, but those with claustrophobia issues might have some problems with the premise.