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Film / 127 Hours

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"Don't pass out."
— Aron Ralston, to himself (and the audience)

127 Hours is a 2010 biopic film directed by Danny Boyle, and stars James Franco as real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston, recounting the horrific 5-day incident Aron endured in April 2003.

While hiking in Blue John Canyon in Utah, Aron made a misstep when he grabbed on to a loose boulder while climbing down a narrow canyon. The boulder dislodged, and Aron and the boulder fell to the bottom, where the boulder crushed his right forearm against the canyon wall. The film dramatizes Ralston's experience of being trapped by the boulder for 127 hours, and the unthinkable choice he must make in order to survive.

This movie contains examples of:

  • An Aesop:
    • No man is an island. Nobody exists in isolation, and everyone needs help sometimes. Also, always tell people where you're going.
    • Don't buy cheap knives.
    • Prioritize: emergency equipment (like a phone) first, camera last.
  • All Just a Dream: A sudden storm comes, Aron moves the boulder under the flooding water, and runs off to meet his girlfriend. It is unclear whether this is a dream, hallucination, fantasy, or something else entirely.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Aron has both a camera and camcorder with him, which he uses to catalog what happened and keep himself sane. At a few points he issues apologies and goodbyes to his family.
  • Artistic License
    • Artistic License – Geography, to some degree. Aron would not have traveled along any highway as large or as busy as those shown in the beginning of the film. Also, in that part of Utah, there is no place resembling the location of the swimming scene. Those familiar with the area will notice other minor discrepancies.
    • Those familiar with the autobiographical book will notice some differences. It may be possible that Aron used some artistic license himself. Possible Unreliable Narrator as well.
  • Badass Bookworm: His credentials aren’t emphasized in the film, but Aron Rolston boasts an impressive resume. He attended the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University where he double majored in mechanical engineering and French as well as minoring in Piano. He worked for Intel as an engineer for five years after college but grew disillusioned by working for a major corporation and gave it up to pursue his passions for mountain climbing and rock climbing. He also had search and rescue training. A former engineer who can play the piano expertly, speak French, has search and rescue training and climbs mountains for fun? He’s easily one of the best examples of this trope.
  • Based on a True Story: And how!
  • Babies Ever After: The end credits show the real life Aron getting married in 2009 and having a child.
  • Break the Cutie/Break the Haughty: The latter to a lesser degree. Aron is a very nice guy, but is shown as being a tad careless. Towards the end of the film it becomes a more literal example when he has to amputate his own arm to escape from the boulder.
  • Cat Scare: Used only once surprisingly. Aron feels something creeping up behind him. With his headlight dead, he decides to snap a picture of it. The flash shows an inflatable Scooby-Doo, but the picture shows nothing to be there.
  • Chekhov's Gag: Kristi and Megan invite Aron to a party, saying he can't miss it because there would be a 60-foot inflatable Scooby Doo (from Scooby-Doo). If there actually was one is never known, but Scooby figures strongly in his hallucinations.
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover doesn't have a single picture showing Aron in the position he spends most of the movie in. There are a few pictures of him climbing, several of him cavorting with the girls, and even one of him on a snow-covered mountain. While all of those are seen in the movie, it's hardly representative of the action in the film.
  • Cultured Badass: Rolston is undeniably brave and tough to have done the things he did, but examining his bio will also show you that he is a man of many talents. He graduated from a prestigious university (Carnegie Mellon) with a double major in mechanical engineering and French. He also minored in Piano and we are shown in the film flashbacks of him playing the instrument as a child. So, Aron Rolston was a rock climbing, mountain climbing former mechanical engineer who spoke French and could play the piano expertly. It’d be hard to find a more fitting real world example of this trope.
  • Determinator: Engineers in the audience will get a kick out of Aron's thought processes. Even after he frees himself, there is still the matter of getting to safety and finding help. This includes a one-handed rappel off a cliff and drinking dirty, stagnant water.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Done literally. Aron tries chipping away at the side of the boulder, but realizes his arm is actually partially supporting the rock, so the more he chips away the tighter the rock is on his arm.
  • The Engineer: Aron only mentions it once briefly in the film, but he was an engineer by education and profession. He had earned a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University and worked for Intel for 5 years but gave it up to pursue his passion for rock and mountain climbing. His training as an engineer serves as a catalyst for how he is able to accurately assess the logistics of the situation he is in as well as formulate potential solutions.
  • Fight to Survive: The main story, after Aron gets trapped between the rocks.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone who is familiar with Aron's history will know that he will get stuck in a rock for 127 hours in the canyon and lose his right arm in the aftermath.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Much of the plot would have been avoided if Aron had simply told someone where he was going, or if he had gone with someone else. Failing that, he could have taken his Swiss Army Knife with him, as well as his bottle of Gatorade. For further irony, he did take the Gatorade with him, but left it in his car so he could have it when he got back.
  • Friend to All Living Things
    "No number twos yet... which will disappoint my insect friends."
  • From Bad to Worse: In so many ways.
  • Gallows Humor: Inevitable. At one point, Aron rips into himself for getting into this situation by conducting a mock radio interview with himself. Not only that, but an audience track is heard (obviously in Aron's head). Aron makes a joke to the "host" about how he won't be reported as missing until Wednesday, when he will surely be dead, and the imaginary crowd bursts out laughing, making the scene more unsettling.
    • The only thing that eases the unsettling aspect of it though is the fact that he laughs as well. It is still sad given the circumstances, and if taken out of context, it is portrayed as rather grim, but still a bit funny given how it is done.
    • After freeing himself, Aron snaps a picture of where he was, leftover arm and all. Similarly, the end credits say that he remained an avid climber and mountaineer, and that he leaves notes in every location to mark where he goes.
  • Garnishing the Story: Anyone familiar with the book will notice some extra plot features. The swimming scene, for example.
  • Genius Bruiser: Aron is a talented rock climber and carried plenty of gear with him to try and work something out. After several attempts, ranging from just yanking and kicking the boulder to finding leverage with his climbing gear. Once all that proved fruitless, he made a thorough analysis of why it wasn't enough (insufficient space to work in and the climbing rope has a lot of stretch) and what it would take to pull the rock off.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Played straight many times. Unsurprising, given the subject matter. Of course, there's a few subversions thrown in, just to keep you on your toes.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Aron breaking his arm then cutting it off with a dull penknife to free himself from the boulder. Justified in the movie and in the real-life incident due to the fact that he tried everything he could over the 5 days to find a different solution.
  • Idiot Hero: Played with in Aron's case, as he is a talented rock climber and has plenty of gear with him, but he didn't tell anyone where he was going, which could have resolved much of the plot had he done so. Going with someone else could also have helped him out a lot. The mock radio interview he has with himself shows him basically calling himself an idiot for getting into that situation.
  • Ineffectual Loner: One of the major themes of the film. Aron notes that much of his problem could have been solved had he been hiking with someone. When he finally comes across some hikers after freeing himself, his exclamation of "I need help!" means everything.
  • Irony: The circumstances he found himself in was a freak accident, Aron himself comments on how simple changes could have made the situation much better. Early in the film he is seen grabbing random items, but missing his expensive, and likely very sharp, Swiss Army Knife. The knife he ended up working with was a cheap, dull multi-tool that came in a two-pack with a flashlight. He had also left a bottle of Gatorade in his truck for when he returned.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: The most famous, literal, and ultimate real-life example. About half way through he admits that his hand is likely lost anyway, it was mostly a matter of psyching himself up to perform the act.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: His initial reaction to getting his hand smashed under the boulder is at most a grim perplexity. Implied to be the shock. Completely averted when it came to cutting his arm off, which is played short, graphic and painfully. Once freed he has enough motivation to not think too much about his injury and just keeps looking for help.
  • No Antagonist: The problems Aron gets into are entirely his own fault. The closest thing the film has to an antagonist is the boulder that traps his arm.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, in that he points out that he hasn't. So nobody does poop, but it's acknowledged that people do.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Aron first gets stuck and realises his arm is trapped.
    • During the first day, when the camera slowly pulls back to reveal how remote the canyon is and how futile his screams for help are.
    • When his thirst starts getting to him, there's a zoom all the way back to his car, and the Gatorade bottle he left there.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Not pointed out, but Aron pretty much has to consider what he just did to himself as this if he's going to survive and get help.
  • Perma-Shave: Aron spends the better part of a week in the canyon, but his moustache/goatee does not grow at all. It is justified, however, in that he starts with quite a bit of scruff and most people have the same type of stubbly, uneven beard growth over several days, somewhere between the light stubble and a full fledged beard. This was indeed the case for Aron, as the pictures he took of himself (they're in his book) show.
  • Prolonged Prologue: Though the opening credits start right away, the actual title doesn't appear onscreen until Aron traps himself, about 15 minutes in.
  • Real-Person Cameo: Real Life Aron Ralston appears at the very end.
  • Red Is Heroic: Aron wears an orange-red shirt for much of the film.
  • Safety Gear Is Cowardly: Demonstrates why this trope is a very bad idea. If Aron had followed basic safety protocol such as letting people know where he was going, the story might have played out a lot differently.
  • Shown Their Work: Ralston himself said it was as accurate as possible without being a documentary. Ralston helped a little: he gave the filmmakers access to his video journal from inside the canyon.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": You know the part. When he breaks his own bones to amputate his arm.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" appearing in the scene where Aron builds a pulley system in an attempt to get out from under the boulder.
    • Inverted with the sound design when Aron has to sever the nerve and just touching it causes a loud buzz/screech (à la the Operation board game) falling somewhere between microphone feedback and a chainsaw. The result is a downright visceral reaction that one can imagine is only a iota of what Aron actually felt.
  • Time Title: The length of time Aron Ralston was trapped in a canyon with his hand lodged under a boulder.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Done to reflect his mental state in the crevice. Which events really take place, which are memories, which are premonitions, which are fantasies, and which are hallucinations?