Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Everything is moving all the time": 10 questions about 127 Hours

1) Why does director Danny Boyle begin and end 127 Hours using triple split-screen techniques to display images of crowds? Was he thinking of the Don DeLillo quote: "The future belongs to crowds"? 127 Hours concerns Aron Ralston's (James Franco) very solitary entrapment within a canyon, his right arm pinned under a rock, and his need to break free. Are all of the crowd scenes meant to be ironic?

2) Does Danny Boyle include all of the 127 Hours' razzle dazzle film technique to mask the fact that there is fundamentally very little movement once Aron gets pinned? At one point, he mentions to two lady acquaintances, that "everything is moving all the time" in the canyon, which proves ironic once the rock falls on his arm. If 127 Hours had been shot in black and white in a neorealist style, much of the movie could be in one shot. As it is, Boyle appears to operate under one rule of thumb: never let the audience get bored.

3) When Aron imagines standing outside and looking in the window of the Scooby-Doo party, did Boyle mean to allude to the Little Tramp doing much the same in The Gold Rush (1925)?

4) Why do the recent award-winning based-on-a-true-story films such as 127 Hours and The Fighter include so many people filming and videotaping themselves? Aron records his every activity with his camera and his camcorder. In The Fighter, we see an HBO film crew shoot a documentary about Dicky's crack addiction when we are not watching TV cameramen film Mickey enter the ring. Do all of these meta-cinematic moments somehow make these movies seem more real?

5) Aron's erstwhile girlfriend Rana (Clemence Poesy) tells him "You're going to be so lonely, Aron." And, lo, the rock proves her right, but isn't he also right to get away from the mass conformist crowd?

6) Since the real Aron's survival experience, he has gone on to write a book about the tale, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which has become an international best-seller. He now gives talks where people pass out during his descriptions of severing the arm. How does he feel about the way the media obliges him to return, over and over again, to his ordeal of solitude and deprivation? How much has Ralston's subsequent media circus resembled the one in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951)?

7) Why is it that Aron needs to be trapped under a rock for several days to wake up to the deeper truths, the "supreme selfishness" of his loner "hard hero"life?

8) Isn't Aron's desire to have solitary adventures the exact kind of self-reliance that cinema would have celebrated in the old days?

9) As Aron reconsiders his reckless ways, leaving home to go canyoneering near Moab, Utah without telling anyone where he is going, he imagines his family assembled around a sofa. Later, after he cuts off his arm, we see them again, en masse, the family of man smiling in the sun. Is Danny Boyle making an allusion to the awkward happy surviving crowd scenes at the end of Schindler's List?

10) Since when did Boyle become such an Oscar-courting affirmer of family values? As Aron sorrowfully admits that he's not been the best son to his parents, I missed the more subversive voice of Rent-boy in Boyle's Trainspotting (1996):

"Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f---ing big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of f---ing fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the f--- you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing f---ing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f---ed up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else."

4 comments:

Edward Copeland said...

1. I think he was trying to top Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man in terms of product placement (think later of the zoom to the Gatorade bottle).

2. I believe Boyle was either on a cocaine binge or aiming for an audience with ADHD. It seems to me if you are going to make a film of a well-publicized story where most people know the outcome and you want to build suspense (which is still possible) he should have tried to make it more claustrophobic and confining to mimic the situation Aron found himself in. I think Boyle might have been bored and that's why he went nuts with angles better suited for the 1960s Batman TV series.

3) I didn't get that allusion, if it were meant to be one, but that could have been one of the many times I was hoping we had Dramamine in the house.

4) In the case of The Fighter, that was there because there actually was an HBO documentary about Dickie and that's what inspired the movie. In 127 Hours, I think it was a conceit they needed to keep Franco talking much in the way they had Wilson the volleyball for Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

5) No thoughts on that matter really because I thought the entire film was so poorly directed and written that I couldn't read that deeply into something that the filmmakers looked at so superficially. It's a miracle that Franco gave as a good a performance as he did in such a poorly executed film.

6) Aron, like so many media-created celebrities, always have the option of saying no. Since he profits from his ordeal, my guess is that it doesn't bother him much. Hell, he agreed to appear at the very ending of the movie.

7) Because then they can make it "mean" something, though those almost impossible to read words on the screen at the end says he still hikes and climbs, even though he now has a wife and child, only know he's smart enough to realize a cell phone is more essential equipment than a video camera.

8) Aren't they still celebrating it since they made this film?

9) No, think you're way off base there. I got no Schindler allusion at all. More just a sort of generic "family is important" sort of thing. I read that they did redo the ending and I'm curious as to how they originally intended to end it.

10) I questioned that myself in my review of 127 Hours. I wonder if it's not working with screenwriter John Hodge or if Danny Boyle has invented the Reverse Auteur Theory, where filmmakers go in the opposite direction the more films they make.

Jason Bellamy said...

Arg. It didn't. I don't have the strength to write it all again. So I'll pick at a few and refer to my review for more depth.

1) The crowd shots at the start suggest the oppressive crush of humanity that Aron rightly wants to flee. The crowd shots at the end suggest a reconnection with that community, a willingness to see good in it. It works for me (even though I hate stock footage).

2) Avoiding boredom is Boyle's chief aim. For sure. But does that diminish the art? If so, does that mean that Sofia Coppola achieves higher art with Somewhere by striving to bore the audience?

4) In both cases, I think the cameras are true to history. That said, I think the main reason for the camcorder in 127 Hours is that it gives Aron someone to talk to without creating a Wilson inanimate-object-as-companion character.

5) He is absolutely right to want to get away from the conformist crowd, and the movie makes it clear at the end that his individuality is celebrated by touting his post-amputation adventuring. Even as he's staggering out of the canyon, he spots those cave drawings and admires them. The film is not suggesting that she should conform. Rather, it's suggesting that his error was over-romanticizing his individualism to the point that he allowed no one else into his life (to the point that he didn't even take standard precautionary measures). It's criticizing him for taking his individualism too far, for empty, alienating reasons.

7) He doesn't "need" to be trapped. But he was trapped. If that was his response to being trapped (and I'm talking about the character, not the man) is that unjustified or unfathomable?

8) Most movies are about people overcoming something. In many films, that might be overcoming the comfort of conformity. In Aron's case it's recognizing that his individualism isn't all that he's made it out to be. I think the film absolutely celebrates his self-reliance in surviving the ordeal. I don't think it's hypocritical to suggest that Aron is a role model for doing it wrong and doing it right.

Jason Bellamy said...

EC: Wow, those comments went right on top of each other. One quick note ...

think later of the zoom to the Gatorade bottle

I've seen that shot ripped as product placement a few times. I'm not going to begin to suggest that it isn't product placement, because sure enough the label is pointed right up at us. That said, I do want to say that I completely identified with that moment in the film.

No, I've thankfully never been trapped under a boulder in a canyon. But I have run marathons. And prior to running marathons, I've gone on long training runs in the sweltering summer heat. That said, I can't tell you the number of times that I've spent miles 18-20 thinking about taking my first sip of Gatorade with every single fucking step. My mouth aches for it. I genuinely fantasize about it. And when I do, I don't just want a drink -- of water, of whatever. I WANT A SIP OF GATORADE! And I say that at someone who only drinks Gatorade on those occasions.

Again, not in the least bit trying to argue it isn't product placement. Just suggesting that the shot in itself totally and completely works for me, product placement included.

FilmDr said...

My apologies to Jason about the comment problem on Blogger. I'll ask them about it.

Edward,

I've been a big fan of Boyle's Trainspotting and his 28 movies, but I've been more hesitant to like his more recent work. In comparison to the blatant anti-commercialism in Trainspotting, the marketing copy of 127 Hours has its moments (such as the signs of all of the major fast food chains at the beginning of the movie). I liked the way Aron's thirst could bring together a montage of drink ads in his mind, but the Gatorade placement seemed hypocritical.

3) Yes, but what of all the photos? Both movies have a mania for self-replication. It reminds me of Warren Beatty's comment to Madonna on Truth or Dare: "What point is there in existing off-camera?"

8) Yes, but since the whole slant of the movie is for Aron to learn from his mistake, I tended to not notice his independence and fearlessness as an explorer.

9) I also could never get the real family feeling, because the movie did not develop them as characters (the film's technique is a more fleshed out character). As it is, I was reminded of the rapt Indian crowds watching the game show on Slumdog Millionaire, all willing to share the group emotion. It's the visual equivalent to a group hug.

10) The funny thing is, Boyle is thinking of making Trainspotting 2. What will it consist of? Warm and fuzzy ex-heroin addicts?

Thanks for your thoughts, Jason,

Your explanation of the crowd footage sounds valid. I haven't yet seen Somewhere (argh).

I don't quite see the reason for the cave drawings--to match up with his own name on the canyon wall? It reminded me of The English Patient.

I find it interesting how people need some extreme life-threatening situation to wake them up from everydayness enough to reform. It reminds me of Walker Percy's thought that we increasingly need an atom bomb to go off nearby to adequately feel alive.

8) Good point, although I missed the celebration of Aron's individualism. His tearing around the desert on his bike struck me as a bit goofy.