I’ve seen a lot of gruesome movies. Perhaps the worst of the lot was Faces of Death, the exploitational documentary that showed people dying in a variety of fashions. This was back before you could see a snuff film with a couple clicks of the mouse. To see Faces of Death back in the 1980s you had to know some juvenile delinquents who stole a VHS copy of the movie from your local video store.
Much of what made Faces of Death such a brutal viewing experience was the hype. The kids in the neighborhood telling you about the gore before you saw it, made the deaths even more stomach turning. But what made watching Faces of Death a truly torturous experience was the idea that this pain was actually occurring to a real person. The belief that what you were seeing was actually happening made the blood and organs much scarier than anything Freddy Kruger or Jason’s chainsaw could ever do.
Danny Boyle’s newest movie 127 Hours put my stomach to a test in such a way. It’s probably harder to sit through 127 Hours than any narrative movie since Michael Madsen cut off Tim Roth’s ear in Reservoir Dogs. 127 Hours tells the true story of man’s man Aron Ralston, a hiker whose arm gets trapped under a boulder for 127 hours before accepting the only way to survive was to cut off his arm with a dull knife.
This is not a viewing experience for the faint of heart. Sure there’s something inspiring about a person’s drive to stay alive and the flick helps you appreciate whatever hardships the fates have delivered upon you as trivial, but man it’s painful to watch the actor James Franco cut into his right bicep. Since the director, Danny Boyle, likes to show everything from a kinetic extreme sports perspective, you also get to see the blade of the knife from an inside the body vantage point.
But the actual amputation, as sickeningly gory as it is, only lasts a few minutes where you can turn your head. What is more excruciating is the anticipation. As the title of the movie states Ralston is trapped for 127 hours. When they show that it is Monday and you do the math in your head and realize he has three more days before he will cut off his arm, it churns your stomach even more. Some people might be amazed that a ninety minute movie can keep your interest with the only two characters for a majority of it being James Franco and a massive boulder, but pain is a fascinating sensation.