Wikipedia defines survival as “the struggle to remain alive and living.” Next to that definition should be a picture of Aron Ralston, the poster boy for survival at any cost.
His name may not ring a bell, but his remarkable story will make you wonder how far you would go to stay alive. You see, Ralston is the American mountain climber who was trapped by a boulder for five days in May 2003 and was only able to free himself by amputating his own arm.
His story is told in unflinching detail in 127 Hours, starring James Franco. The film is so intense some audience members have suffered panic attacks and lightheadedness.
The same can’t be said of Alive, the 1993 film about a Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the Andes, who, once their rations of wine and chocolate ran out, were forced to eat their deceased teammates to stay alive.
Based on real events, the facts of the story are gut-wrenching, but as New Yorker critic Anthony Lane pointed out “most people know the story already; everyone began to titter with anticipation whenever one of the characters said he felt hungry.”
The ghoulish humour some audiences found in the film’s story of survival was echoed in Lane’s review when he wrote that the film, “solemnly wring(s) a message of togetherness from the horror. Come closer to your friends than ever before, the movie says: have them for lunch.”
Less known than Alive’s cannibalistic rugby players but just as compelling is Touching the Void, another true-life endurance drama.
The movie’s lesson?
Never go mountain climbing.
Roger Ebert called the story of Joe Simpson’s slow, painful climb from the bottom of a crevice to rescue “the most harrowing movie about mountain climbing I have seen, or can imagine.”
Most of these movies have happy (or at least happy-ish) endings, but not all stories of survival end in triumph.
The anti-survival movie genre is alive and well, even if the characters usually aren’t by the end of these films.
Into the Wild, the Oscar-nominated story of an idealistic dreamer not up to the challenges of living on his own in the wilderness of Alaska, and Open Water, the tale of a pair of swimmers who become shark bait, don‘t have the inspirational uplift of some of the other movies I’ve mentioned, but can be essays in courage (or stupidity, depending on your viewpoint).
Throw together 258 feature films, hundreds of famous folks and a celebrity pet lounge and you have the good, the cool and the silly from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
The ten-day event is a memory now—it ended last night with some free screenings at the festival’s new home, The TIFF Bell Lightbox, for some very tired festival veterans—but in addition to great movies like 127 Hours, The King’s Speech, Good Neighbours and Biutiful, among others, here are some random festival tidbits that set tongues wagging.
Best Movie Quote
“There’s more incest in this town than in an Atom Egoyan movie.”
Most Fun Celebrity Sightings
The town was busy with celebs — everyone from legends like Robert Redford to newbies like Carey Mulligan — but the coolest celeb sightings had to be Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson) at the Swarovski Party, Bruce Springsteen walking down College Street and Small Town Murder Songs star Jill Hennessy busking with her sister Jacqueline on King Street.
Best Acceptance Speech
“This is a huge honour,” said The High Cost of Living director Deborah Chow, winner of the $15,000 SKYY Vodka Award For Best Canadian First Feature Film. “I need to thank SKYY Vodka, not just for this award but for saving me from having to work at Starbucks next weekend.”
Most Surprising Dinner Order
Slender star Milla Jovovich enjoyed the Truffle Lobster Pasta at the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel so much she ate it every day she was in Toronto.
Best Alleged Bad Behaviour
A very famous movie producer was purportedly seen pushing a baby carriage out of the way while running to catch an elevator at the Four Seasons.
Most Dangerous Screening
Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, the true story of climber Aron Ralston who cut off his own right arm after getting pinned by a boulder. The amputation sequence is so intense several members of the audience required medical attention. Runner-up: The Whistleblower, which caused at least one fainting spell.
Best Excuse for Cancelling an Interview
John Carpenter, director of the chiller The Ward, who blew off TIFF and dozens of confirmed interviews because he was called to jury duty in Los Angeles.
Wikipedia defines survival as “the struggle to remain alive and living.” Next to that definition should be a picture of Aron Ralston, the poster boy for survival at any cost. His name may not ring a bell but his remarkable story of how he literally found himself between a rock and a hard place will make you wonder how far you would go to stay alive. You see, Ralston is the American mountain climber who was trapped by a boulder for five days in May 2003 and was only able to free himself by amputating his own arm. His story is told in unflinching detail in 127 Hours, starring James Franco, a film is so intense some audience members have suffered panic attacks and lightheadedness.
That reaction is the result of careful direction by Danny Boyle. Because we essentially know how the story is going to end Boyle keeps us along for the ride by building up tension slowly as he moves toward the movie’s Big Scene ®. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it is rather masterful filmmaking. When he does get to the amputation scene (admit it, you’re curious) he creates a movie topping sequence (it starts to get grim at about the hour-and-fifteen minute mark) with visuals that leave something to your imagination and a jarring electronic soundtrack that is less grueling but more effective than any cutting scene from the “Saw” series. It may not show everything, but trust me, it’ll be a long time before you order a rare steak or beef tartar in a restaurant again.
Boyle fleshes out the bare bones of the story, adding in heartbreaking hallucinations of survival and a montage of soda commercials that illustrates what happens when thirst goes beyond the physical to become a mental thing.
It’s all tied together by Boyle’s visual sense. He uses a variety of shooting styles to really give us the idea of why Aron loves this terrain and how dangerous and extreme it can be. It gives us a feeling for both the isolated vastness and beauty of Aron’s surroundings.
At the heart of it all is James Franco as Aron. Like Ryan Reynolds in “Buried” this is a performance that isn’t limited by its physical circumstances. Reynolds spent ninety minutes in a box and gave the performance of his career while Franco, trapped by a boulder, alone in a tight uncomfortable space does some seriously good work. His choices of roles have been esoteric of late—playing Allen Ginsberg in “Howl” for instance—but in “127 Hours” he has found the part that should earn him some well deserved recognition from the Academy.
“127 Hours” isn’t an easy movie. When Aron tells himself “don’t pass out” during the amputation scene he could well be talking to the audience as well. Imagine the most uncomfortable you’ve ever been. Now multiply that by a thousand. No wait, a million. That’s the experience Boyle and Franco are offering up, a grueling but worthwhile story of survival against all odds.