January 30, 2011

When you get caught between a Boulder and a Canyon

We all heard the amazing story of how experienced mountaineer Aron Ralston got trapped in Utah's Canyonlands and had to cut off his own arm (with a dull knife) to free himself. It is one of those compelling stories that makes you think, "what would I do"?

Even though I am a James Francophile, I wasn't sure if I could see 127 Hours. Although I am not squeamish, I wasn't sure how Academy Award winning director Danny Boyle would show the self-amputation scene. Kudos to the filmmakers that I didn't even look away during the scene. Sensitive viewers might find it unwatchable, although mercifully, it wasn't long and drawn-out.

Based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place (a must-read), the film adaptation is a fascinating look at the human spirit. Even though I have zilch survival skills, I also have this dream of setting off on my own to commune with Mother Nature. Yet this scenario can also become my worst nightmare. In Aron's case, all the ingredients were there: fear of falling, fear of the dark, fear of enclosed spaces, and in the case of slot canyons, fear of flash floods. Even though we know how it ends, the filmmakers manage to keep up the suspense. The film and soundtrack are as frenetic as our thrill-seeking protagonist.

James Franco gives a riveting performance that deservedly earned him an Oscar nomination. You are right there with him as he enjoys his wilderness adventure, the anger and frustration at his horrible predicament, the matter of fact acceptance of his terrible mistake of not letting anyone know where he was. Then there is the inevitable look back at his life, the realization that he was going to die, and ultimately, the harrowing decision to self-amputate. All too human moments.

The movie also stars Treat Williams as his father, Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara as two hikers Aron encounters before his accident. I was pleased to see Harry Potter's Fleur Delacour, Clémence Poésy, who played his love interest. Utah provides the beautiful yet treacherous backdrop. I was astonished and alarmed by the scene where the camera pulls away to reveal the tranquil, barren, remote canyons against a gorgeous blue sky as he desperately (and uselessly) screams for help from the bottom.

I was exhausted and drained after watching the movie. But the overwhelming emotion was being inspired and awed by the endless reserves of strength that most people don't even know they have. There are not enough superlatives to describe how remarkable the human instinct for self-preservation can be. This particular story of survival reminds us of the limitless possibilities, the impetus and the potential to lead---if I may borrow from Oprah---one's best life.

(photo from Cinema Blend)


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