How many times have you said to your self, "This was the worst day of my life?"
Or maybe, "I barely survived losing my job, or breaking up with my ex"?
The Danny Boyle film 127 hours, starring James Franco, brings a whole new meaning to how we perceive survival. The film is a painstakingly accurate account of the gruesome, dehydrated, starved and psychologically tortuous days that mountain climber and adventurer Aron Ralston spent with his right hand trapped, literally, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. The film is a dramatization of Aron's autobiographical book of that title.
Yes, you're right. Aron is "the guy who cut off his own arm to survive" -- and became famous for having had the stomach and smarts to do so while pinned under a boulder and fighting for his life. His misadventure began after he headed out on "three hour tour," so to speak, in the Blue John Canyon near Moab, Utah. But unlike Gilligan, he was entirely alone and without a boat's worth of supplies.
Here I must mention that I am squeamish by nature. I have a hard time with gory Halloween decorations -- and even Harry Potter films. I catch few big Hollywood releases and fewer that spurt blood. Still, last night I found myself in Beverly Hills at the film's premiere in the middle of which -- I may as well confess it -- I was the first person to get up and walk out for air. It was a last ditch effort to keep myself from fainting.
I was not alone. Little by little the lounge area outside the theater began to fill with others seeking refuge. Ultimately there were about forty of us. Some were nauseated, others dizzy. The paramedics wheeled one woman out on a gurney after she had a seizure, which sent the whole audience into heightened confusion and panic. Apparently this has happened elsewhere. The director, Danny Boyle, told NPR today that the first thing some people have said after being revived is, "Great film."
Most of us did want to go back in, but the screams from inside the theater prevented many, including me, from doing so. Near the end, one woman yelled, "The arm is off! It's safe to go back inside." And so we went. But the sight of the blood flowing out of Franco's liberated appendage sent me whirling back towards the lobby. "What?!" Franco himself asked me in confusion when I nearly bumped into the actor, but I couldn't stop to explain.
I still feel guilty that I just couldn't stomach the film. Aron himself was sitting down the aisle from me next to his lovely wife, as I watched the worst six days of his life play out on a huge screen. I can't ignore the irony that I couldn't even bear to watch something that this man experienced. I kept trying to walk back into the film to see what happened next. Because as horrifying as it was, it's also a story of profound courage.
People who are angry about the graphic nature of the film -- one woman called it senseless and pointless while storming out -- are perhaps forgetting that gratuitous violence is rampant in Hollywood. Not just in horror and thriller films, but even in our action and drama films. Think Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan. Even Avatar saw hundreds of people and creatures slain.
But for all its gut-wrenching intensity, 127 Hours is not abusing violence for entertainment's sake. The film is also beautiful. And Franco, through his performance, taps into a deeper level of the core of what it is to be a human reflecting on the existential questions of one's own purpose in life. This film is about transcendence, growth and the ugly truth of what it sometimes takes to survive. Aron's story is so disturbing because it hits so close to home, because the film-makers bring it deep beneath the skin. As Aron faces his own mortality, we face ours.
We can't help but ask ourselves the question: "What pain would we endure, what would we be willing to sacrifice in order to survive?"
It's unthinkable, of course, that we could ever be in a similar position -- or so we tell ourselves, though we never know what life may bring. In different ways, we are all faced with insurmountable personal challenges that threaten our lives. A cancer diagnosis. A car accident. An abusive relationship. Have you ever felt you were all alone in the world in the fight of your life?
We are all survivors who at some point made the choice to push through barriers that were keeping us from thriving. Each of us has had the experience of the boulder that has fallen in our path. Sometimes, instead of enduring the pain of reaching beyond it towards liberation, we end up squandering our lives, weighed down by the weight of our suffering.
But the secret that Aron has to share is that we are more resilient than we can possibly imagine.
Aron shows us that he lived through that.
And you can live through this.