Aron Ralston was a self-imposed loner. Always up for a trek into the unknown by his lonesome, without concern for those around him, he was fated to die alone. Not fated by a transcendent power; but by his own immanent decisionism, which carved out a path that would lead him, inevitably, to his destiny with a rock. As Ralston (James Franco) notes at one point in his imprisoned state, that very rock was prepared for him, and he for the rock – they for this encounter.
As the hours go by, Danny Boyle’s direction highlights both the internal and external struggles that Ralston faces. From extreme shifts in temperature, to food shortage, to a diminishing water supply, to claustrophobia, to the increasing nervous shock from having his arm violently jammed between a boulder and a sandstone wall, there is no lack of intrigue as the viewer too is trapped with Ralston in what would be an otherwise inopportune setting in which to film 85% of a film. However, the confining setting is perfectly active. Not only is Franco’s performance dynamic and able to hold the audience’s interest, but the subtle shifts in the natural surrounding, as well as Ralston’s psychological turmoil, create an empathic milieu from which the audience, fittingly, is unable to escape.
Although the ending is no surprise, the way out is; not because we are unsure about the precise details that Ralston takes to overcome his statut, but because the dynamism of actors (both human and non-human) affects the audience in such a way that we begin to suffocate along with the struggling climber. There seems to be no hope; even when the end is already written. There seems to be no way out; when clearly we know the result. But let me suggest that the reason the way out is so profound is not merely because of the physical feat that Ralston undertakes (which is in itself brutal, explicit, and drastically courageous) but because of the internal overcoming that is required in order to get to the point where he breaks (both literally and metaphorically), causing a shift in allegiance and thus a shift in fate. As a perpetual loner, Ralston realizes his self-imposed fate as such. He comes to grips with his errors that led to this inevitable encounter. And only when he is quite literally brought to the point of death and to the point of madness is he able to raise himself above his previous fatedness and create himself anew. Through his imagination he is finally able to recognize his need for others, his need for help. But this realization alone is not sufficient for redemption. He must act. Accordingly, the only action sufficient to free him from his previous fatedness is to break and cut off his wedged arm (in a very graphic scene) and to wander again through the wilderness in search for rescue. Eventually finding hikers that come to his aid (only after he quite literally ‘baptizes’ himself in a pool of murky, stagnant water) he is able to verbalize what will become his new fate: “I need help!”
More than sentimentality, 127 Hours is a movie about reconciliation. It is a film that explores the devastating consequences of choice, and that shows the struggle of overcoming one’s immanent fate as Ralston seeks to recreate himself in the face of almost certain death and madness. So, rather than claiming that “There is no force more powerful than the will to live” (as does the poster above) this movie shows that there is at least one force more powerful, one upon which such a ‘will to live’ is dependent: reconciliation through self-induced fracture.