"If I believe there's more than this", sings Dido, that forgotten British lady who gave us great hits and beautiful songs such as "White Flag" and "Here With me". She always had a lovely voice, but these words she's singing in the name of Aron Ralston, the man who got his hand caught in a huge rock while climbing in the John Blue Canyon in Utah. We know who Aron is in a heartbeat; that is, James Franco defines the character in a couple of scenes. This he does not by speaking, but by actions: singing freely, running wild. Aron meets two girls and they sense he could be from another galaxy. He cares about nothing, he has not another person in mind and what he needs and loves is in front of him: big mountains.
That's also what Danny Boyle needs. The mountains and James Franco are sufficient elements to make a whole movie. On the other hand, I think that by now we can agree that Boyle (alongside writer Simon Beaufoy) loves to inspire these days. That's what "Slumdog Millonaire" was and what "127 hours" is: inspiring (and inspired –I might say this a lot, but it's true-) filmmaking. If the previous film was about impossible love and rising above the circumstances to achieve the impossible, this new tale is the same thing, without the "love" factor. That is the factor that allowed Boyle to tell "Slumdog" as a fable, with hopeful music, bright colors and beautiful little things (or moments) in the ugliest places. For those who thought this was an erroneous decision, disrespectful towards a country's reality, "127 hours" arrives to prove them wrong.
There's no embellishment here. No other color than James Franco's pale face and the red blood that comes out of his trapped arm. As real as a man who struggles for his life, with no water and food, begging for some sunlight and the response of a raven, the tale –while never losing track of its tragic center, that Boyle and the master Anthony Dod Mantle try to represent through various 'desperate' shots, like Aron's tongue seen from the inside of a bottle of water and other camera and mise-en-scene resolutions- takes flight through imagination.
In Aron's situation, in which he tries to rise above the impossible as he thinks about who he is and what he's done in life (painfully- "every moment since the day I was born has brought me to this rock", he whispers-), imagination can be nothing but poetic (it's hard to accept it, but poetry in cinema –visual, narrative poetry- can be boring, really boring –not always-. Boyle makes it inspiring. I started with that statement so I'll try to get back to it). Aron searches for moments in the past, he envisions people in the dark and meticulously reconstructs a near future. Poetic means inexistent piano melodies in the air, or a beautiful woman saying an "I love you" that no one can hear. Some of the things he experiences are otherworldly.
The most recent movies about characters alone with the world were Sean Penn's "Into the wild" and Rodrigo Cortes' "Buried". The first movie is about a boy who has lived a lie and decides to find truth in standing alone in front of Mother Earth. His personal story has affected him, and before he's completely by himself, he changes (willingly or not; it doesn't matter, it just happens) the lives of the people he meets. Chris (or Alexander Supertramp) has an ideology and talks a lot about it, but it's not the most consistent element of the movie. In "Buried", ideology is everything, powered by a great original idea. A man is trapped in a coffin, underground, and as he tries to survive (there are some good 'survival' sequences), every line of dialogue is spoken to criticize the government. There's no personal story whatsoever, only daggers thrown at the policies towards hostages in foreign land.
Let's recapitulate, because I want to get to the transparent inspiration that lies in the story of "127 Hours". In "Into the wild", Supertramp ends up alone in Alaska by personal choice. You can be inspired by several reasons that can be found in the journey of the film (a road trip in the end), even more if you believe in the character's ideas. In "Buried", the main character is captured on purpose. You can be inspired if you support his political ideas, his will to get out of that coffin or his family waiting at home? There's not real inspiration there.
In "127 Hours", however, Aron being trapped is not planned (this is all the more surprising), but as he goes back on who he is, at some point he even believes it was not an accident. It's that idea what's inspiring. Aron spends 127 hours revising these thoughts. He rediscovers himself as a person and we get to know him as a man who wants to overcome the impossible. What's even more purely inspiring, besides the fact that Boyle fractures the screen and races through the scenery in order to make this introspective journey more exciting (as only himself can); besides the fact that the director has found in A.R Rahman the perfect partner to tell stories that cannot live without music (now without HIS music); and besides the fact that James Franco takes on the role as if it was his own life on the screen; is that unlike a lot of these kinds of movies, Aron does what he does not to prove a point, or to set an example, or because he stands for something. He does it for himself because he wants to. In those hours, he somehow realizes he has to do it. Well
that's when nothing can stop you.
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