Culture news: Tim Reidy, our online editor, gets right to it in his insightful review of the new Danny Boyle film "127 Hours." What is that scene like? Unless you yourself have been trapped in a crevasse you'll know the scene I'm talking about, in this very well reviewed new movie, by the director of "Slumdog Millionaire" and the sleeper hit "Millions." Here's Tim:
Let’s get right to the point. Yes, the scene is brutal. It lasts only a few minutes but the cringe quotient is almost unbearably high. But don’t let it deter you from seeing the film. You’ll be surprised how chipper you feel on the way out.
I am writing, of course, of the climactic scene in “127 Hours,” the new film from the director Danny Boyle. You know, the one where Aron Ralston, the free-spirited hiker played by James Franco, proceeds to sever his own arm. Aron becomes trapped when his arm is pinned to a rock wall by a falling boulder. For the next 127 hours he tries everything short of self-surgery to free himself. Ultimately, he does the unthinkable.
Why would anyone other than aficionados of the “Saw” franchise want to see this film? Why would Boyle, fresh from his Oscar victory for “Slumdog Millionaire,” choose to celebrate his win with an exercise in mutilation?
Good questions, both. “127 Hours” would seem to be a major departure from the crowd-pleasing “Slumdog.” In the later, we encounter the teeming streets of Mumbai; in the former, the lonely expanses of the Utah desert. “Slumdog” interweaves the story of several characters; “127 Hours” is the story of one lonely canyoneer. Both films showcase Boyle’s frenetic style, but “127 Hours” is by necessity more subdued. When you’re filming in a rock crevice, there are only so many camera angles to exploit.
Perhaps that is what attracted Boyle to the project. The film’s narrative restrictions pose a tempting challenge for a skilled director. And Boyle pulls it off. He tells his story like a pro, with nary a wasted shot. When you see Ralston pack for his weekend hike to Utah, you sense that each item will be crucial to his survival. When he can’t locate his Swiss Army Knife, your stomach tightens, knowing he will regret it later. During Ralston’s entrapment, Boyle expertly introduces the tools he will need to commit the dreaded act. (I’ll never look at my Camelbak backpack the same way again.)
Or maybe Boyle was attracted to the film’s gore after all. Over his career he has shown himself to be a careful student of human waste. This is the man who brought us Ewan MacGregor swimming in a toilet filled with his own excrement in “Trainspotting.” In “Slumdog” a young slum-dweller undergoes a similar humiliation, and in “127 Hours” Evan is forced to drink his own urine when runs out of water. Forgive the graphic detail, but a unique aesthetic seems to be at work here. And in “127 Hours” that aesthetic finally comes into focus.
Also, though we mainly highlight online Culture offerings on "In All Things," I encourage you to read Robert Ellsberg's fascinating look at the love letters of Dorothy Day, which will appear in the print edition of our Culture section next week. Somewhat unusual in the writings of a soon-to-be-saint, these frank (and sometimes frankly romantic) letters to the man who would be (and was) her common-law husband are remarkable for what they tell us about love, about sanctity and about Dorothy Day. Ellsberg's fascinating article, "Dorothy in Love," is here; excerpts from the letters themselves are here.
James Martin, SJ