"I need help!" is the cry that echoes and ricochets through this riveting and creative wilderness survival film. With Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) as director, one can expect visual dynamics, strong performances, and a sturdy depiction of human nature at its best and worst. 127 Hours is based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston which offers an account of this rock-climber's harrowing five-day ordeal in 2003 after being trapped in a narrow canyon with his right arm pinned beneath a rock.
Aron Ralston (James Franco) is a loner who heads off to Canyonland National Park in Utah for a weekend of camping and hiking. He seems thrilled to escape the city's familiar sights and sounds. He has not told anyone about the trip. After arriving in wilderness that has been a famous tourist spot for years, he rides his bike over the rocks and hills in an adrenaline-pumping sequence. After demonstrating amazing balance, Aron crashes his bike but miraculously gets up and continues his journey. While hiking, he meets Megan and Kristi (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) who are lost, and he convinces them to follow him to a favorite spot. The three of them climb and then let themselves fall down a steep ledge into a crystal-blue lake. Each time they plunge into the water, there is an explosive sound that is astonishing. It is like a bell waking us to the joys of living in the present moment. But it also could be interpreted as a shot in the dark signaling trouble ahead.
Exploring a canyon, Aron falls in a crevasse and finds his right arm pinned underneath a boulder. No matter what he does, he can't move the rock. "I need help!" is a cry that ascends from the depths of his soul. We recall going to camp as children and being paired with other kids so we wouldn't get into trouble alone. Aron has no partner. This is the plight of many Americans today who admit in surveys that they can't find a single person to be there for them when they are in trouble or at the end of their rope.
Aron plunges into depression after realizing that he can't free his arm and it is growing numb. Facing death, he dreams of childhood and then a failed relationship with the girl he loved. "I need help!" echoes the refrain, signaling his selfishness and isolation. He dreams of a party with Kristi and Megan where there is plenty to drink — a message that his fear about running out of water is very real.
Aron uses his digital and video cameras to record his imprisonment in the cave. Anyone watching this record will sense his need for interaction with others. "I need help!" cries his heart — the heart of a lonely man facing death and suddenly aware of the emptiness of his life.
But Boyle also wants us to see and honor Aron's perseverance in the face of hopelessness. In the end, the director would have us agree with Hugh Walpole, who once observed: "It is not life that matters, it is the courage you bring to it." One thing is certain: after this ordeal, Aron will be a changed man, much more dependent on and connected to others.
Special features on the DVD include a feature commentary by director/co-screenwriter Danny Boyle, producer Christian Colson, and co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy; and deleted scenes.