As man-against-nature stories go, 127 Hours is a bit of a detour: no fending off wolves or grizzlies, flash floods or blizzards. Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) foe is, instead, the inert but somehow malevolent boulder that falls—along with Aron—into a narrow crevice in the earth, pinning his arm and Aron himself. 127 Hours documents Aron’s surreal efforts to survive and to cope with his intractable predicament.

Aron is the kind of resourceful, seemingly invincible guy who gets down billy goating over boulders and racing his bike through a sunbaked, desolate landscape instead of tearing up the rave dance floor. Nature is his adrenaline rush.

With his endearing grin and slightly nerdy Gatorade-fueled energy, Franco is the perfect hero for 127 Hours: lovable despite his conviction that he is a Grizzly Adams action hero. Director Danny Boyle's tale is a cautionary one of a warrior humbled and of rugged individualism's limitations, and Franco makes those messages both human and accessible.

As the film unfolds, Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) makes it clear that Aron’s crucible is less a battle with nature than it is a confrontation with self, as Aron begins to consider his isolation in the larger scheme of things. Failing to alert anyone to his whereabouts is only emblematic of his larger, gnawing solitude. 

Vastly entertaining for what it shows of human ingenuity, as well as Boyle's wildfire visual imagination, 127 Hours is a classic, albeit internalized, adventure story. It's juiced up with Boyle's attention-deficit-disorder camera work, which renders the world as hallucinatory as any drug trip.

Ironically enough, Aron’s wilderness never feels any more peaceful than the citified Koyaanisqatsi frenzy he leaves. His experience of nature is mediated at every step by technology: an iPod, a video camera, a digital watch—technology is the 21st century equivalent of a comforting and familiar security blanket. 

The camera's ability to plumb radical new depths and convey experience at its most immediate is never more on display than in the buzzed-about scene in which Aron amputates his own arm with a dull knife in a last-ditch effort to save his life. With sudden buzz-saw jolts of music equally graphic to anything on screen and an unflinching, cold-sweat-inducing dissection of the nitty gritty of self-amputation (there are more steps involved than you would think), Boyle conveys the essence of his story. It tells of an ingenuity and will to survive that put the quandaries of our own daily existence to shame.

127 Hours
Directed by Danny Boyle
With James Franco

UA DeVargas
94 min.