127 Hours (2010)
Rated R for just being absolutely gruesome. I mean, it's one of those movies where you need to know what is going to happen before you come into it. Also, the protagonist contemplates pleasuring himself. To do this, he watches some home movies. He also drinks urine and vomits. It's all pretty heavy and uncomfortable content, coupled with the fact that a dude's hand is rotting off and he has to self-mutilate. It's a well-deserved R-rating.
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle
The 20th Anniversary box set of Fox Searchlight should just be renamed "The Danny Boyle Collection with Guest Directors as a Bonus Feature." I don't mind. I really dig Danny Boyle. And I acknowledge that there are a lot of not Boyle entries in this box. But it seems like the biggies in the box are all things that Danny Boyle made. Okay, it's three out of twenty. Still, I'm going to be a stick in the mud and stand behind my initial comment.
I really thought that I would never revisit this movie. There are a handful of movies that are absolutely brilliant while being absolutely brutal. I'm glad that I've seen them, but it's behind me. Like, after my next Covid shot, I'm not going to be jonesing for another Covid shot, but I'll be glad that I had it. I suppose it's that fine line of torture porn that these kind of movies offer. The very conceit behind the film is the same reason I don't want to watch it again. It brings up a really interesting idea that I've never thought about before. There have been many occasions where I have binged horror franchises. During October, I'll tend to knock out horrible slasher movies where people are ripped apart in new and unique ways. Heck, the reason that there are so many Halloween or Friday the 13th sequels are simply for excuses to find new ways to mutilate teenagers. Yet, 127 Hours makes me squeamish.
I have to believe that it comes from character investment. Aron Ralston is a bit much for me. I'll go into this later. But Aron Ralston 1) is a real dude that this really happened to and 2) Boyle invests a lot of celluloid (digital or no...) into making Ralston come across as a real dude. One thing that seems to be a standard in the horror movie is that these characters tend to be cannon fodder. I'm going to even give points to Sydney Prescott from the Scream films. She is the heroic protagonist who keeps coming back and keeps surviving these movies. Her story is pretty fleshed out by this point. But there seems to be a wide chasm between someone like Sydney Prescott, a genre heroine, and Aron Ralston, based on a real guy that I would hate to hang out with. And it doesn't matter that I want to avoid this guy at all costs. I invest in Aron surviving. But that's almost not what even matters. Because all of the investment in the world wouldn't matter if this movie wasn't marketed the way it was.
I find it really bizarre talking to my students about The Sixth Sense. (I apologize if I have a million hooks in today's blog. It makes me seem all over the place.) I simply assumed that everyone knew about the ending to The Sixth Sense. These kids don't. I can actually recommend that movie because it might have a new shelf life. I have a feeling that the shift in culture might have an opposite effect on 127 Hours. 127 Hours was always the movie where the guy cuts his own arm off using a brand-X Swiss Army knife. When I bought my ticket (I actually think I got this from Blockbuster Online) to 127 Hours, I knew what I was doing. I knew that Aron Ralston was going to survive by mutilating his own arm. While watching this for the second time, I realized that Danny Boyle had to work pretty closely with the marketing team for the film to make it work. The movie banks on the notion that everyone knows he's going to cut his own arm off. There are so many references to the arm coming off that it becomes this terrifying exercise in suspense. And that grossness that makes me never want to rewatch this movie is central to the movie existing. It's this knowledge that I'm going to see something horribly gross.
But then why do I like this movie? I mean, it's never going to hit my list of greatest movies. But I also acknowledge that this is a big Danny Boyle victory. I mean, I like it in spite of never wanting to meet Aron Ralston in real life. It works because, as much as it is a survival movie, everything that makes it interesting isn't the survival aspect. To be honest, I don't necessarily love survival stories. Survival stories can get pretty boring. But looking at Aron Ralston from a perspective of regret...that's something to watch. There's something about a good setting or a good conceit that brings out humanity. With The Walking Dead or the better Romero zombie films, the zombies force humanity to act in a way that they normally wouldn't. Because you can't just be comfortable in one place, the notion of civilization is stripped away and people act on their worst impulses. The same thing is true for Shane Black's action comedies at Christmas. Christmas is already a stressful situation, so any kind of conflict arising from said issue is going to exacerbate the situation. With Aron being pinned down by a rock, he's forced to stand still. This is a guy who is constantly moving. While I abhor using the cliché, he's the shark who needs to continually move or die. I kind of wish that Boyle leaned into this element of the movie a little bit harder, but I did appreciate the woulda-coulda-shoulda element of being stuck on a rock.
Because Aron is one of those criminally optimistic people. Maybe that's what I find so abhorrent about him. (I'm so sorry, Mr. Ralston. I'm sure you are a perfectly fine human being.) I thought it was the whole adrenaline junkie thing that turned me off in Free Solo, but it might be the overt chipperness that he presented. But we get a look at some real regrets from his perspective on the rock. While Aron never does anything actively wrong, there are moments where he should have appreciated the little things. Instead of being bullheaded and going off on his own, maybe he should have stayed with the girls. It's implied that he lost the love of his life for something dumb. (That being said, the movie has the nice coda of letting us know that he's happily married now.) It also all comes down to answering the phone when your mom calls. I love my mom, but there are a handful of times that my stupid life caused me not to pick up the phone. (Sorry, Ma, I just don't have that much alone time to play video games.) It's all this stuff that is fascinating. Well, it's the introspective stuff coupled with the knowledge that, at any point, he's going to saw his arm off with a crappy dull knife.
And Boyle just keeps messing with us. So much of the film is based on the sense of false hope. I mean, you know that he's going to saw his arm off. Everyone said that he saws his arm off. I have even seen this movie before and I still hoped that he didn't saw his arm off this time. But Boyle knows that you both want to see that moment and fear that moment simultaneously. The flood sequence alone is enough to make you believe that the story can somehow shift directions, like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel. It's great.
It's just that I never want to see it again.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.