For the past few days, I've been wondering if I could, under any circumstance, cut off my own arm. I mean, maybe if I had a light saber and I was super-duper drunk and a group of doctors was standing by my side and someone was going to pay me an offensively large sum of money as part of a demented bet... then I might be able to do it. But, given that light sabers don't exist (yet) and I have awful heath insurance, it's quite unlikely that such a scenario would present itself. So, no - I would not be able to cut off my own arm and I doubt you would either.
But you know who did cut off his own arm? This guy named Aron Ralston, who fell into a canyon in 2003 and had his arm trapped beneath a boulder and then wrote a hilariously titled (but not hilarious) book about it called Between a Rock and a Hard Place. That book has now been adapted for the screen in Danny Boyle's Best Picture-nominated film, 127 Hours, starring actor/author/filmmaker/student/genius James Franco in what might be his best non-soap-opera role to date.
Why in the hell would someone cut of his or her own arm, and with a dull knife nonetheless? Well, probably because Ralston was going to die of dehydration or starvation because this rock atop his arm was so massive that he didn't have any other choice. Also, he didn't tell anyone where he was, so there was no possibility of a search team tracking him down. Ralston, you see, is an outdoors enthusiast and like many who fall into that category, was a bit of a loner, setting off on long biking or climbing treks alone and without notifying friends or family as to where he'd be headed. And while he's pinned under that rock, Ralston really, really regrets this - among other miscues in his young life including, but not limited to, not returning his mother's phone calls. Apparently, there's something about having a boulder on your arm that makes you realize the importance of mothers.
Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) manages to keep the story rolling despite the fact that it's mostly about a guy sitting next to a big-ass rock for five days by way of flashbacks, dream sequences and masterful editing, but at the end of the day, Franco makes this film work. That son of a bitch can act and if anyone is still remembering him as the slacker from Freaks and Geeks, they won't for long. As Ralston, he perfectly embodies the freewheeling ethos of adventurous American men in their early 20s who thrive under the assumption of invincibility as they distance themselves from their privileged upbringing and, like Alexander Supertramp, might be ultimately selfish in doing so. Franco seems to get this. Given that he's essentially the only actor in the film, other than a pair of lady hikers (played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) and some flashbacks of Ralston's siblings and friends, that's a good thing.
Boyle captures the absurdity of Ralston's predicament through the home videos he's constantly shooting, many of which are delightfully humorous - even though the guy's arm is smashed beneath a boulder. Which, of course, brings us to the scenes in which he cuts off his damn arm. And no, I'm not ruining the ending - you had to know that this dude cut his arm off. It was one of the most outrageous news stories of the past decade, for crying out loud. I know what you're wondering: Is it super gross when Ralston plays surgeon on his own body? Oh, hell yes. Totally. But unlike the actual ordeal, Boyle makes it quick and mostly painless for the viewer (other than a few X-ray shots in which we see the knife actually cutting the bone... uh, barf), even as blood covers every inch of Franco's body.
A dude cutting off his own arm is fascinating, but again - 127 Hours is about much more than self-amputation, even if that's what you'll probably remember most from the film. With Franco's performance driving 127 Hours, this is ultimately an awesomely powerful experiment in less-is-more cinema. In a way, this is the anti-Avatar, the anti-Inception - it's just James Franco sitting down in a hole, which as it turns out, is better than most films you'll see this year.
OK, so let's get back on track here - do you think you could cut off your own arm if you knew it would grow back? Or if doing so would keep Hitler from being born? There's a lot to think about when it comes to cutting off your own arm, isn't there?
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring James Franco