, ,

As is the case with large-scale events like a film festival (in this case the Toronto International Film Festival) with simultaneous segments and thousands of participants spread out over several locations, things can go horribly awry. A series of devilish details unhinged the press screening for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, a harrowing tale of climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) who, back in 2003, found himself, through his own recklessness, with his hand trapped under a boulder in a Utah canyon for five days until he seized upon the only option available for survival – self-amputation. After spending a mere two hours in line, I was among the first group of critics admitted to one of two smaller screenings of the film, and as a bonus, we were greeted by a terribly gracious Boyle who explained the situation and apologized for the inconvenience. He even attempted to deflate the anticipated jokes from an audience of journalists likely to bemoan the hours spent waiting to see the film.

Such self-deprecating humor would be incongruous with more flamboyant helmers, but Boyle appears to fit the more grounded mold of Steven Soderbergh – intellectually curious directors eager to dive into diverse projects, whether steeped in indie hipster cred (Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape or Boyle’s Trainspotting) or sci-fi-infused parables (Solaris and Sunshine, respectively). Both have the facility for hopping back and forth across the independent and the mainstream divide and always finding ways to deliver audiences safely to the far shore.

And here was Boyle, following up his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire with a film that was already drawing attention for its graphic depiction of self-amputation that had reputedly driven viewers from theaters at other advance screenings. Was he secretly reveling in our revulsion?

It turns out he was merely preparing for his latest trick, one that required a willing accomplice like the daring Franco who I have long believed was only one film role away from cultural transcendence (and it appears that this is his moment, since the youthful Renaissance man has somehow bridged the gap between high and low sensibilities, cured cancer and discovered those non-existent weapons of mass destruction). These two have converted the solitary tragic journey of Ralston into a rollicking feel-good time.

Boyle takes the static setting and agonizing time frame, infusing it with a dream-feverish sense of balls-out pacing that could only exist in the mind of a man who realizes that his end is near. This is when we become the most human, the most alive, and that is where our willingness to do whatever it takes to remain among the living kicks in. Boyle creates that state of mind and Franco brings it to glorious life. He engages us, even when, early on, he does everything wrong and puts himself in this desperate situation.

Somehow the hours fly by and we sit and wait, with a mix of patience and anxiety for the moment that we know will come and the deed that must be performed and when it is done, we are surprised that Boyle and Franco have prepared us; they have given us the strength to sit through this experience and enjoy the eventual triumph. It is a feat nearly equal to that of Ralston. (tt stern-enzi)