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Danny Boyle has tackled drug addicts in England and kids in the slums of Mumbai. Now he’s focused on an all-American outdoorsman, a Coloradan no less.

Aron Ralston and the Canyon of Fate

Back in April 2003, Aron Ralston, a cocky adrenaline junky, took off on another weekend mountain bike expedition, out into the rugged Utah terrain of Blue John Canyon.

Aron’s the kind of irrepressible guy who has such a zest for life, the spills and tumbles are a cause for celebration, just as much as celebrating successfully meeting a personal goal, like his ill-fated attempt to shave 45 minutes off the time to complete a trail at the canyon. And so it is, after a particularly nasty tumble on the mountain bike, it’s a reason to pull out the camera and smile.

Stopping to think about the possible consequences of his dangerous solo treks never entered into the picture. Never, that is, until his reckless ways finally caught up with him.

For most people, that’d be game over. For Aron, it’d be time for a new beginning.

As Aron himself said in a fantastic, humorous introduction to 127 Hours at the Starz Denver Film Festival, it’s not really a spoiler to say the movie has a happy ending, even after he cuts off his right arm in order to escape entrapment under a boulder in Blue John Canyon.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

127 Hours is rated R, primarily for its graphic violence. That rating is totally bogus. Yes, the arm-cutting scene is intense, wriggle-in-the-seat intense. Yes, reports of people passing out during the scene have cropped up across the country, but that smacks of Psycho-style Hollywood hype. A few ambulance calls during the Denver premiere did indeed happen. But only one incident could be confirmed, and it turned out to be a health issue unrelated to the movie.

The R rating will stifle attendance by a core part of the movie-going audience that should most definitely see this movie: teenagers under the age of 17. Particularly the cocky ones. It’s not that Aron himself was a teenager at the time, but his experience packs a message that they should hear: communicate with friends and family before going off on an adventure. Let them know where you’re going, just in case the unexpected rears its ugly head.

Aron came to that realization while trapped in the canyon, with no way out, no one to help, and without cellphone coverage. Once his cockiness wore off and Aron began to reflect on opportunities lost, thoughts of his friends and family and his desire to see them again were what finally drove him to his drastic amputation.

Puncher’s Chance

Danny Boyle at the Denver Film Center
Danny Boyle at the Denver Film Center

Aron made the interview circuit following his ordeal and he’s done so again while promoting this movie. His outlook is absolutely top-notch. But what’s surprising is how easily relatable he is, and how easy it is to relate to his portrayal in 127 Hours.

Make no mistake about it. Aron Ralston is not another Christopher McCandless, the spoiled brat whose exploits living off the land – more precisely, mooching off the goodwill of others – became the basis for Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which in turn became a movie directed by Sean Penn. Aron is much more sympathetic than Christopher.

Arrogant? Yeah. But in a positive way. And Aron acknowledges his supreme selfishness while staging a mock interview with his own superhero alter ego while trapped in his potentially deadly predicament.

In Aron Ralston, this author has found something of a kindred spirit. This author has taken pictures of his flesh wounds for the prestigious Mattsonian. And it was during this author’s trip to Egypt that he came to terms with the potential dangers of being far away from loved ones who didn’t even know he was gone.

94 Minutes

From the opening frames, it seems like the role of Aron Ralston is one James Franco (Spider-Man) was born to play. Franco brings to the screen Aron’s gregariousness and, given his own proclivities to tinker and dabble in different endeavors, Franco has the personal background to imbue Aron’s onscreen characterization with an earthy realism.

On the surface, the key messages of 127 Hours are to plan ahead, keep key people informed, and travel smart. On top of that, though, there’s another message: live smart. As it turns out, Aron’s an engineer by trade. Yeah, that profession typically relegated to the geeky in college. But once Aron finds himself trapped, he spreads out his gear on the boulder that has ensnared his right arm and says to himself, “Let’s think.”

Perhaps it’s too much to ask of one movie, particularly an R-rated one, but the hope is there this story will get people of all ages to think at least a little bit more before they act.

Clocking in at a brisk 94 minutes, director Boyle keeps 127 Hours humming along swiftly and artfully. Even the title card is held back until well into the movie, when Aron falls into his canyon of fate. In particular, the amputation scene is a great mix of visual flare, terrific editing, and forceful music by A.R. Rahman. Then there’s the stunned silence following the sudden release.

Given Aron’s penchant for documenting his tumbles, it’s only fitting that his last act in the canyon is to take a picture of the remains of his own arm stuck between the rocks.

Yeah, man. That’s the spirit!