It is not hard to see why Danny Boyle identifies with Aron Ralston. He is irrepressibly adventurous, cheerfully defiant and bafflingly ingenious. He also has a knack for getting himself stuck in uncomfortable places. Filming Ralston’s story could not have been much easier than extricating oneself from a crevice where you are stuck with one hand under a rock. But Ralston got out and wrote a memoir for Boyle to build a film on.
As unfilmable as the subject may sound, Boyle does not trap his audience in the canyon with his protagonist. He leads them into Ralston’s mind- and it is beautiful inside, even when it is not pretty. As the strain on his body builds, the colour of memory smudges desire, pain, love, loss and fear. Boyle projects this with spectacular yet hauntingly familiar visuals. Everything in Ralston’s mind is filtered through his unshakeable affection for life. He replays snatches of life gone by on his handycam, records what is left of it and most poignantly, makes a sort of life even in his stony grave- waiting for a raven who flies by every morning and gasping at sunlight sweeping over the trenches.
Only just as you begin to indulge yourself on the mush, the film flips on itself. Ralston snaps out of his reverie with a wry monologue- a mock radio talk show on his predicament or a goofy message to a friend- and then goes back to trying to a find a way out.
Most of his attempts are existential, especially when you consider how insignificant he is in the unforgiving landscape that overwhelms Boyle’s camera as it zooms out into infinity. But the film is not a philosophical meditation. Nor is it a suspense drama. Most of us know the end, but Boyle strums our nerves and picks on our fears as we wait in anticipation. His protagonist is not an extraordinary hero so we cannot imagine him as distinct from us. All Ralston has is an agile mind, quiet grit and formidable pragmatism that allows him to cut through the tangles, right to the bone. Also literally.
In one of the most gruesome climaxes of recent times, Boyle’s ostentatious filmmaking scales a new pinnacle. A. R. Rahman matches his genius with an exhilarating background score that makes your heart stop and head whirl. Completing this circle of magic is James Franco as Ralston. The camera closes in on him but there isn’t a flaw to be picked. He is striking and he is natural even in a condition so horrific, we can hardly get ourselves to imagine it. This film, like Ralston, does not pity itself for being stuck with a difficult story and little tools, instead it celebrates cinema in every way possible. The editing and cinematography stand out and seize your attention but they also merge seamlessly into the whole of excellence.
127 Hours whips up the applause for being a good film, but its real significance lies in being a rare film- a work of art so unlikely and so triumphant that it reorients you to the perpetuity of possibilities. That is also how one would roughly define miracles.