How do you take a disaster and make it a joyous celebration of life and drive? You sic Danny Boyle onto one of the most infamous stories of the last decade and let him turn Utah into a character, that’s how. The story of Aron Rolston is well known and Boyle plays with the audience setting up the moment it will all go wrong right from the opening credits. We get to know Rolston, played by James Franco, as a fearless lover of life and loner. Everything is something for him to enjoy. He is pure Id. And that is what finally bites him.
Franco’s performance is wonderful, but not because he shows us Rolston’s resolve and metamorphosis into a person who recognizes the people around him as a vital part of his life, but because with Boyle’s help Rolston is transformed into a modern Everyman. What would you do and what would you be capable of in the worst of circumstances? How would you survive and what images and dreams would keep you going? What is your relationship to the world and people around you and what should it be? What is important?
We see Rolston’s choices, but that is just the story, not the meaning. At least it wasn’t how I experienced it. See the opening and closing images for how you view them (they’re just repeated) for the effect he produces. I’ve discussed opening and closing frames before, but this is a wonderful example of how the story itself is shaped by those moments and how they provide the legend for the map of the film.
This is not an easy film for all the reasons you’ve likely assumed and probably a few you haven’t. Well worth getting through the squeamish bits to experience the exhilaration. I don’t know that I’d need to rewatch it, even with the glorious landscapes, visual metaphors, and the beast that is the slot canyon, but I’m glad I saw it once.