I haven’t been forced to look away while watching a movie since the frat boys eating dog semen-filled donuts scene from “Van Wilder” nearly made me vomit in 2002. Like I’m sure most members of the modest afternoon Neon Movies crowd seeing “127 Hours” on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I was familiar with the Aron Ralston story and expected that the inevitable self-amputation scene might force my eyes away from the screen for the first time in eight years of steady movie going.
I was also concerned that a movie about a hiker/rock climber getting stuck in a canyon for five days, only to free himself by hacking off his own right arm, might be mostly dull, then needlessly gruesome. I’d imagine director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Sunshine”) might have shared those concerns. It turned out that James Franco’s (“Milk,” “General Hospital”) portrayal of Ralston’s five days in the canyon were actually quite entertaining and endearing because Franco does a terrific job conveying Ralston’s humanity, humor, and most importantly, his will to live.
Ralston is a self-sufficient nature lover and adventurer who was as much in search of solitude as natural beauty. When, while hiking in Utah, Ralston falls down a narrow canyon and gets his right arm pinned between a boulder and the canyon wall, he is forced into solitude for five days, all the while contemplating how his independent, possibly selfish personality may have as much to do with his agonizing predicament as does the rock that keeps him from leaving the canyon.
Because the Ralston story received such attention, the audience knows that he must amputate his right arm in order to free himself and avoid dying in the canyon. Of course, cutting off his own arm was not Ralston’s first attempt at escape and because Franco’s Ralston is so easy to root for, I found myself foolishly hoping that he’d be able to chip away enough of the boulder with his pocketknife to escape, or that the pulley system he fashioned would do the trick, or that the flash flood that loosened the boulder was reality and not just a hallucination brought on by exhaustion and despair.
By the time Ralston is forced to accept the fact that he must cut off his own arm or die, I knew that my eyes would be glued to the screen during the amputation. At that point, the audience is so invested in Ralston’s survival, I’m sure I was not alone in thinking that it’d be insulting to Franco’s performance and Aron Ralston himself to look away. And, while the amputation scene is graphic and difficult to watch, I found it more an emotional display of Ralston’s intense need to survive, rather than shock and awe gore.
Like many of the best movies made, “127 Hours” is only showing in Dayton at The Neon. If you’re considering seeing “127 Hours” but are concerned about being able to make it through the amputation scene without fainting, just know that it’s more beautiful than grotesque and that The Neon, as always, has alcoholic beverages available.