…and the quest to see everything

Archive for December 3, 2010

127 Hours

Director Danny Boyle uses his new film 127 Hours to show off what he can do with the camera. Here he assembles some of the crew who have also been in the Slumdog team like Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle as well as less familiar names like cinematographer Enrique Chediak and editor Jon Harris. Three way split screens! Footage of subway platforms or sports arenas, encapsulating the 21st century crowd syndrome. Then there’s Aron Ralston (James Franco), not answering his mother’s phone calls and packing up for a trek by himself, and in a way he’s the antithesis to the crowd. We’ll understand his solitary adventures because of where he’s going – to the canyons in Moab, Utah. The vast landscape is enticing, beautifully captured in the film. Aron is at one in this kind of environment.

The audience knows what’s eventually going to happen to Aron, since the press and other reviews have given it away. Aron Ralston is a real person whose hand got stuck in a boulder and has to cut it off to save his life. Thus, every little detail and event shown in the film becomes noticeable and is a source of dread. We’re anxious when he puts his hand on the cupboard and just misses a useful Swiss Army knife, a few inches out of reach. But the trailer shows him meeting lost two girls (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) before everything else happens, so we don’t have to worry yet. When he does fall off his bike into some shrubs he, we’re scared but he laughs it off. He drives into the canyons, and guides Kristin and Megan into as deep as they wanna go.

ph. OutNow

These minor characters add to Boyle’s even-handed portrayal of the empty landscape, showing both the beauty even within the danger. Falling between deep crevices of rock can mean diving into a reservoir of clean water. Even when he’s stuck, the film pulls away from his predicament to other visuals within Aron’s line of sight. The sunlight in the early morning that he can feel on his right foot. A raven that passes by at a certain time. A silver lining in Aron’s situation is being able not just to see this part of the canyon but to contemplate it, a legitimate viewpoint adding complexity to his character. He’s also aware of the mythology of the land and reminds us of it before and during Aron’s difficult five days. He also thinks in a transcendent pattern, believing the inevitability of his predicament. Boyle emulates all of that and accomplishes to share those different perspectives within one character in this film. Seeing both the sublime beauty in this situation thankfully doesn’t make this film a cautionary tale, telling its audience both to become daring and be smart.

Boyle captures Franco’s performance through the split screens and different pixel resolutions of digital cinematography. Franco more than does his part, evincing dread not through words but through his eyes in the first few seconds of Aron getting stuck. There’s little moments of regret and self-flagellation, and his moments of calm, control, and intelligent problem solving stand out. He gets photographed in unflattering angles, letting go at visceral time, eating like a wild man, showing Aron’s exhaustion.

Those things said, it’s probably more helpful to read the source material, Ralston’s book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” before watching the film. The movie is just about the man’s state of mind as anything else, as the film takes us into flashback scenes of past loves, him thinking about alternate scenarios of the present and future. That also means that a lot of distracting scenes are within the film. It could have done better without the interior shots of Aron’s blue camel bag, the Lovely Day sequence and the Scooby Doo sequence. But then those scenes probably broke us into other leaps of fantasy, like the Good Morning Boulder sequence – simpler and thus better than I imagined or was led to believe, thankfully. The film also makes the mistake of casting the genius of a wordsmith Lizzy Caplan as Aron’s sister and not giving her any lines.

Ralston was stuck in that boulder in May 2003 and I was in Grade 10 and have no recollection of hearing this news item. Despite of the film’s distracting editing flaws, I was giggling like a giddy little school girl in the film’s adventurous first half hour. The ‘last’ scene is visceral and long enough for me to change my mind, taking my hands away from my eyes and deciding that I have to witness the reenactment of that moment. That kind of engagement that a film offers is enough for me.