plus It's Kind of a Funny Story
by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Aron Ralston was spelunking in Utah’s Blue John Canyon in 2003 when a rock dislodged and pinned his right hand against the ravine’s wall. Utterly isolated and with no one aware of his location, Ralston endured five days trapped by the 800-pound boulder, with little water or food. The adventurer chronicled his situation in a series of increasingly unhinged video recordings, until desperation led him to do the unthinkable. After deliberately breaking the radius and ulna bones in his arm, Ralston cut the tissue around the fractures with a dull, dollar-store utility blade, finally severing the tendons and nerves with pliers. Then he climbed out of the rift and walked eight miles in extremely high temperatures.
Relating this astonishing story of survival presented several cinematic problems — not the least of which was the fact that, while Ralston’s feat is unbelievably impressive, the story is basically about a guy sitting immobilized and alone for days. Enter director Danny Boyle, who knows how to do both gritty (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) and mainstream (The Beach, Slumdog Millionaire). The combination of his skills, along with a bravura performance by his lead, makes 127 Hours one of the year’s best movies.
Boyle turns Ralston’s predicament into an odyssey of self-examination, as the hero of the piece slowly comes to the conclusion that his life choices up to this point are the main cause of his predicament: he’s a man of utter self-absorption, with no regrets, perhaps — but no attachments, either. If he’d only told his family of his plans, or had somebody in his life who cared enough about him to realize he was missing, chances are he wouldn’t be faced with this horrific decision. 127 Hours manages to keep Ralston’s emotional transformation affecting and relatable, as opposed to trite — which is no small feat.
Along with Boyle’s excellent direction, the choice of James Franco as the lead proves to be inspired. Franco’s easygoing manner (only recently discovered, thanks to Pineapple Express) is a good fit in portraying the spirited Ralston. The actor conveys his transformation in a believable manner: not as a sudden personality transplant, but as a subtle shifting of gears. Franco is also a compelling screen presence, able to keep the audience focused on him for an hour and a half. His job as Aron Ralston is so effective, the rescue scenes are positively exhilarating and you’ll leave the theatre with a natural high.
Without getting too technical, the sound design in 127 Hours is also a marvel — even more sickening than watching the guy amputate his own forearm is the strident noise triggered whenever Ralston severs a nerve, in Dolby stereo. The absolutely gorgeous cinematography is courtesy of Anthony Dod Mantle, the same guy who made Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist so horrifying it was nearly impossible to watch.
The amputation sequence is undeniably grotesque — sure, it’s nothing we haven’t seen in endless slasher movies, but the way it’s filmed, combined with the fact that it actually happened, lends a brutal sense of reality to the scene. Still, the triumph of 127 Hours is that it’s not a film about losing an arm; it’s about getting back one’s life.
IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY
DEC. 11-12, RPL FILM THEATRE
Comedian Zach Galifianakis has shown more acting range than most of his peers in fewer of movies. The effete actor-wannabe from Due Date doesn’t have much in common with The Hangover’s unbalanced man-child or the well-adjusted, if emasculated, comic artist from Bored to Death.
In It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Galifianakis plays it straight (-ish) as the mentor of a depressed teen in a locked ward. Craig (Keir Gilchrist, United States of Tara) confuses teenage angst with suicidal tendencies and checks himself into a psychiatric hospital. He learns about his relative normalcy not by contrast, but thanks to the other interns’ feedback.
Bobby (Galifianakis), a seemingly normal guy who hides severe depression under a happy-go-lucky facade, shows Craig his stress is provoked by his penchant for pleasing others instead of himself. Noelle (Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew), a cutter, teaches the kid the difference between infatuation and love. By the time Craig accepts his relative sanity, he is too invested in his acquaintances to just let go.
Overall, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a pleasant experience that doesn’t leave a mark. By all accounts filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s (Half Nelson, Sugar) weakest effort, the movie is too timid to question the definition of mental health, let alone psychiatric ward policies. There’s a refreshing honesty exuding from the film, but this is a case in which the best intentions don’t necessarily translate into a good movie. /Jorge Ignacio Castillo