(2010) On Friday, April 25th, 2003, Aron Ralston (James Franco), a mechanical engineer and avid mountain climber, left his home for Horseshoe Canyon, near the Moab in Utah, spending the night in his vehicle before bicycling 17 miles to Bluejohn Canyon on Saturday morning where he intended to rappel down the big drop.
On his way up, the exuberant canyoneering young man meets two girls, Kristi and Megan, uncertain of their bearings, and offers to be their guide to the dome. After showing them a shortcut involving a dramatic plunge into a deep pool of water, supremely self-confidently he goes his own way into the slot canyon.
With A.R. Rahman's original score powerfully complementing director Danny Boyle's harrowing adventure film of incredible bravery triumphing over initial foolhardiness (screenplay co-written with Simon Beaufoy), based on Ralston's autobiographical account of his ordeal, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, we're taken into Aron's mental and emotional state for the five days and seven hours, pinned with no other option, it takes him to make up his mind that he'll do anything to survive.
A chalk-stone boulder breaks loose when he slips and tumbles into a narrow crevice, catching and crushing his right handed against the rock wall. His grueling imprisonment begins at 3:05pm. Having a precarious perch for his feet, dressed in a tee-shirt and shorts, he takes inventory of his possessions, which include a container of water, some energy bars, a watch, a Canon video camera with audio recorder, headphones, and a "cheap, 'Made in China,' multi-tool" with dull knife. (The Swiss-army knife had escaped his notice on a shelf in his home when gathering together items for the weekend trek.)
Aron tries chipping away at the boulder without making much progress at freeing his hand, which turns blue from lack of blood circulation. He records an audio/video message, describing his circumstance, requesting that whoever finds it give the tape to his parents in Colorado. He rigs up a harness to secure himself for sleeping, but the nights are cold; even during the day he's shaded from the sun for all but a quarter of an hour in the morning when he takes note of a raven flying overhead in the sky.
He has vivid memories of his childhood with his parents and younger sister; he hallucinates, seeing Blue John, Butch Cassidy's cook, and a young woman telling him as she leaves him in a crowded stadium: "You're gonna be so lonely, Aron." He chides himself: "Don't lose it."
After a pulley arrangement fails to dislodge the boulder on Monday, he tightens a tourniquet around his arm. During the night, dehydrated, a torrential rainstorm floods through his mind, nearly drowning him, lifting the stone free.
Tuesday morning still trapped but retaining a sense of absurdist humor, he records on his camera, pretending to be a radio dj, a faux broadcast: "I probably won't be making it in to work today." Also in an interview with himself, he points out important lessons to be observed when canyoneering: "You didn't tell anyone where you were going?"
During a panic attack, he stabs a wound into his arm with the dull knife. On Wednesday he looks at the video he'd recorded of Megan and Kristi swimming in the pool Saturday morning and drinks from the urine he's saved: "It's no Slurpee." Realizing that every moment of his life had been leading inexorably to this, he confesses to himself: "I chose this."
After breaking the bone, he begins cutting and screaming in promethean pain - "Don't pass out" - through the tendons and nerves. Even after freeing himself from the rock, fixing a sling for his bound amputated limb, Aron, weakened from not having eaten or adequate intake of fluids, still has the daunting challenge of rappelling one-handed down the canyon wall and somehow summoning strength to get back to his vehicle before getting medical attention.
I kept my eyes open for the entire film, though I was agonizing through the self-surgery. When comparing the stump of Aron's hand at the wrist afterward with his stabbing and sawing away on his arm while inside the canyon, the movie makes the amputation appear more of a butchery on himself than it may actually have been.
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