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Film Tells Tale of Climber Who Severed Arm

In '127 Hours,' actor James Franco portrays mountain climber Aron Ralston, who severed his own arm after getting trapped in an isolated canyon.
In '127 Hours,' actor James Franco portrays mountain climber Aron Ralston, who severed his own arm after getting trapped in an isolated canyon.

'127 Hours' explores the true-life dramatic decision to escape entrapment and death

In "127 Hours," filmmaker Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning creator of "Slumdog Millionaire," offers a visceral take on a mountain climber's real life adventure. During a rock climbing trip in Utah in 2003, Aron Ralston gets trapped in an isolated canyon for 127 hours with a boulder on his arm. Facing death, he severs his right arm with a dull knife. Boyle intricately follows Ralston's agonizing hours leading up to the climactic moment of his escape.

Ralston's pain is palpable. As time trickles away, the suffering is magnified by the heat, extreme dehydration, advancing death. For two hours, the audience stays captive with Ralston.

"This marks 24 hours since I'm stuck and chipping away. I have 150 milliliters of water left which would keep me alive until tomorrow night if I'm lucky. So, that's it." These comments are based on the real Aron Ralston's monologues and messages to friends and family he recorded on his video camcorder while trapped.

James Franco offers a complex interpretation of Ralston. He says the real Ralston gave him the tapes to better understand the character's predicament.

"I got to see him in that spot, not knowing that he was going to get out. It's a glimpse into his life where he thought he was going to die," says Franco.

Director Boyle uses natural landscape as the film's backdrop and makes it into one of the movie's characters.

The once confident, self-sufficient Ralston is now helpless, vulnerable next to the eternal rocks. Most of the film was shot inside the canyon featuring the trapped main character. That, Boyle says, was a challenge.

"The danger with the stillness he has is that the film could easily become inert. One of the things you can do is music," says Boyle.

Adrenaline-pumping music underscores stark images. Other techniques to get the movie flowing are split screens showing the main character and people in his life at different times, flashbacks.

Boyle says his main character is not alone in that cave. In his mind's eye, he is surrounded by people who propel him to survive.

"Everybody has their boulders that they may have to make difficult decisions about or overcome," he says.

The filmmaker immerses his audience in a long graphic scene when Ralston severs his arm.

"In the book it takes him over 40 minutes. It's not something that you can do quickly, especially in the circumstances he found himself in with a blunt knife."

The end of the film is as intense as its beginning. Life overcomes death and Ralston lives, a more complete person than before.