If you believe the hype, 127 Hours may be the hardest movie to watch this year. Reports of fainting audience members isn't great PR, but it would be a shame if anyone is deterred from seeing this fantastic, albeit intense movie from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle.
The true story (on which the film is based) is admittedly nightmarish: in 2003, Aron Ralston slipped into a crevice while hiking in Utah, and a boulder pinned his right arm. When he could see no other options for escape, he amputated the limb in order to survive. James Franco portrays the fiercely independent Aron with the necessary intensity, and like Ryan Reynolds in Buried, his unaccompanied performance is surprisingly charismatic. From Aron's exhilarating foray into the outdoors to his terrifying accident, Franco's performance carries the feverish storyline from adventure story to triumphant drama, while Boyle's direction and cinematography create a stunning backdrop.
To find out why I think 127 Hours is memorable for more than its climactic scene, just read more.
Though the bulk of the film focuses on Aron in his prison, he's not the only actor. Costars Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara play fellow hikers who meet Aron before his accident, and Clemence Poesy is an ex-girlfriend he pines for. These interactions with other characters illuminate who Aron is outside of survival mode; he's more than just a tough-as-nails climber who's so overconfident in his skills that he doesn't leave a note to tell anyone where he's going. Boyle's construction of Aron's relationships, flashbacks, and fantasy sequences also prevent the viewer from feeling as trapped as Aron is onscreen.
Now, onto the issue most people are wondering about: the arm-cutting scene. It's definitely bloody, but it's not as difficult to watch as I had anticipated (unless the sight of blood does make you queasy, in which case, just close your eyes. You'll still get it.) When Aron comes to his inevitable conclusion, you've already experienced his trauma so intimately that you want him to do it. Not in a morbid way, but in the sense that you root for his survivalist spirit. It's a horrifying act, but it's uniquely admirable.
127 Hours is not the stressful experience you may be expecting; it's not harrowing because there's no suspense. If you know the true story, you know that Aron is going to survive. It all culminates with an ending so moving and emotionally satisfying that you may — gasp — want to see it again.