The movie begins with a bunch of scenes of crowds, races, sports game audiences, and people getting on and off trains... basically a bunch of people all together. There is some very "Slumdog Millionaire"-ish music playing, and it segues into a scene where Aron Ralston (James Franco) is trying to grab all the things he would need for the day. The screen says that it is Saturday. It is still dark out and he is really hurrying around his apartment, so he can't find his Swiss Army Knife, even though we can see it is just out of his reach in a cabinet. He even looks in the cabinet but his hand misses it, so he leaves without it. He fills up a camelbak and a nalgene bottle, grabs some energy bars and literally runs out the door. The audience is supposed to see him as a really high-energy guy.
Aron hops in his car and drives, with more really loud music, through the desert while explaining to his camcorder that all he needs is the dark, music, and himself. He pulls up to what looks like a really small campsite, but he just hops in the back of his truck and lays down to go to sleep.
In the morning, Aron wakes up and hops on his bike. This guy is just packed with energy and enthusiasm; you can really tell that he is in love with adventure and the outdoors. He rides through the desert doing wheelies and jumping over things in the road. He falls down once or twice, but he just thinks it is funny and keeps riding. He has attached his camcorder to the handlebars of his bike and he keeps taking little stops to talk to it and update the audience on his progress and plans. Basically, except for two or three scenes, Aron (James Franco) is completely alone, so the camera is almost his excuse to tell us what is happening and/or to communicate with someone/something while he is out.
Aron decides to ride to a place called Blue John Canyon. He rides as fast as he can, and on the way he parks his bike and starts to climb. He is climbing for a few minutes when he hears two girls walking by and decides to say hi. It is Christi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), and they are clearly lost. They are looking at a map but they really can't decide where to go. Aron says hi and tells them that he can help them. He asks them where they want to go, and they say "the dome," and Aron says he can take them there. They start to go, but Aron says that if they are up for it, he knows a better place to climb. They obviously think he is kind of weird but kind of cute, so they go with him. Then, there is the scene from the preview where Aron, Megan and Christi are climbing in a really small crevice and Aron tells them that everything is going to be okay, and he just lets go of the wall and falls into the really narrow crack. It is a pretty scary scene, but he lands in this beautiful blue little pond/lake thing, and sings to the girls to let them know that he is okay. Christi jumps and then Megan, and they all have a really great time jumping into the water over and over and playing on a little boulder on the edge of the water. Aron records the whole thing...not in a creepy way, but in the kind of way that he just likes to have a record of the places that his crazy life takes him. They play in the water for what seems like an hour or two, and then they all take off and start walking.
They all end up going their separate ways, but Aron asks if he'll ever see them again, and they say that they're having a party the next night, and that he can find it by looking for a giant inflatable Scooby Doo, which will be outside the party. He says he'll be there, and walks away. The girls laugh to each other because it is clear that Christi had a crush on Aron.
Aron begins to climb on his own, and he comes across a pretty small little canyon thing that he climbs into. He jumps over a branch and into the canyon. He climbs through it for a few minutes and then he sees a big drop off with a boulder on top of it. He kicks the boulder to make sure that it is stable, and climbs into the drop off using the boulder as the thing he hold onto. As he's going in, the boulder comes loose, and because he has been holding onto it, it falls down toward him. He falls maybe 15 feet into the canyon, and the boulder falls with him, and because of the way he lands, his arm is caught right between the boulder and the side of the canyon. There is a little bit of blood, but the big problem is clearly that his hand is NOT going to come out. Even though we are about 25 minutes into the movie, the title card comes up right now, and it says '127 Hours' on the side of the screen, which is a really gut-wrenching thing to read as soon as Aron gets stuck.
Aron spends some time trying to get the boulder off his arm, but it is WAY too heavy and it is really really really really really wedged in. Again, this movie is basically just Aron trying to get his arm out, so I'm not positive these are in the right order, but I will do my best. I'm sure I will forget some things.
So Aron tries to lift it from all different angles, and he can't. He tries to kick it loose, but it won't move. He yanks really hard on his arm to try to just rip it out, but it is totally useless. He screams his lungs out for help, but as he is screaming, the camera pulls out of the canyon and shows how vast and open the desert is and how tiny the crack is. He is COMPLETELY isolated and alone. He tries to think of anything he might have with him to help, so he unpacks his entire bag and looks at everything he has. He tries to use a multi-tool, like a leatherman but crappier, to chip away at the stone, but it really doesn't do any good. He remembers that he got the multi-tool free with a flashlight. He drops the multi-tool into a little hole that he can't reach, and uses a stick that he holds with his foot to get it back. He takes out his camera and begins to explain what happened and how he got there. He says that whoever finds this can keep the camcorder if they will just try to give this tape to his parents, who he names and gives their address.
Somewhere in here, the night comes, and Aron tries to sleep, but he is freezing. The night is long and cold, but Aron still makes jokes to the camera and to himself to keep his spirits high. He is really a remarkable guy, and he never really loses hope. The morning comes, and the screen says that it is Sunday. He is using up his water pretty fast, and he doesn't know what to do about that. Aron begins to try to use his climbing ropes to try to make a pulley system to get the boulder off of him, but he talks to himself about the fact that he would need A LOT of gear, and the climbing ropes are too stretchy. He says he would need 8 burly men to do all the lifting because the boulder is so heavy. He uses his climbing harness to sit in so he can sleep, but he is in a really bad situation.
Aron begins to have flashbacks about things he wishes he had done differently, and the first one is a few days prior when he ignores his Mom's phone call. She leaves a message and he hears it but is in the middle of getting ready so just ignores it. She really wants to talk to him, but he doesn't call back. At some point earlier in the movie, he ignores a call from his sister (Lizzy Caplan) and he feels bad about that too, so he apologizes to her on his camera. He says that he'll "always be with them" and stops recording. He also remembers a time when he and an unnamed blonde girl were in love, and they had some fun times together, (they met while he was abroad, some intimate time in a car, hanging out with friends, etc.) but then they broke up at a sports game at some point in the past, and she tells him that he'll always be alone. They zoom in on him sitting alone at the game, and even though he is with a bunch of people he feels totally isolated and alone. He keeps having these flashbacks throughout the movie, but I really can't remember what order all this stuff happened in because there is very little chronological continuity. He looks at a map and thinks about how he didn't tell anyone AT ALL where he was going.
Tuesday comes, and Aron's flashbacks begin to turn into hallucinations. He notices a raven that flies by every morning and he starts to talk to it. He is running very low on water, and he has a very vivid dream/hallucination that a HUGE storm comes up and completely floods the canyon. The flood lifts the boulder and he climbs out and runs away to his old girlfriend's house, and she slams the door in his face. He wakes up crying and yelling 'please' at her, but the whole thing was just a dream.
Aron is beginning to get desperate, and he realizes that all the chipping away that he has been doing to the rock has only been making it more stuck because the rock is resting on the soft flesh of his arm. He has more hallucinations about his family sitting on a couch in front of him in the canyon, and he misses them all but realizes that he has never fully let them in. He does a little skit with himself and pretends that he is on a talk show and being interviewed. He jokes around and says that he really should have told SOMEONE where he was going, but he hasn't told anyone. It is Tuesday now, and he realizes that when he doesn't show up for work today his boss will notice, but that even if his boss calls the police, Aron won't become an official 'missing person' until 24 hours later, so he becomes a little more hopeless.
He realizes that he NEEDS water after he drops his bottle and loses most of his reserve, so he begins to urinate into his water bottle so he has SOMETHING to drink. It's pretty disgusting. He also keeps trying to re-wet his contacts, but his eyes are getting really irritated. He is really falling apart.
Now it is Wednesday. Aron carves his name and his birth and death dates into the wall of the canyon, and is becoming pretty delirious. He believes that everything in his entire life has been bringing him to this boulder, and he thinks that this boulder, since the time of the beginning of the earth, has been waiting for him. He thinks about the journey that got him here, and he thinks about how he has always been a loner who preferred to be independent. He remembers when he filmed his little sister playing piano, and it makes him realize that if he dies he will miss her wedding. Finally, he has a very vivid vision of his future son, a little boy sitting on a couch in the canyon. He talks to the boy and can see himself being a good dad and teaching his son. He knows what he needs to do.
Aron takes the camelbak straw, which is a rubbery tube, and uses it as a tourniquet. He ties off his arm and tries to use the multi-tool to cut into his skin, but it has become so blunt from all the scraping of the stone that it won't even cut his skin. He eventually just stabs his arm and hits bone. He realizes that he needs to break the bones first, so he wedges a rock between himself and the boulder and uses it to break both arm bones. Very loud and painful sounding, but no bones break through the skin. He then uses the tiny and very blunt knife on the multi-tool to cut away all the soft-tissue around the break, and the camera work is very shaky and jumpy to make the audience feel as shaken as Aron is. There is blood everywhere, and Aron tries to convince himself to not pass out.
Aron has to cut a few tendons, but the knife is completely blunt, so he just has to rip them out. After about 2-3 minutes of footage of the cutting, he stumbles back and is free. He's BADLY dehydrated and bleeding, but he ties up his arm in a sort of sling and gets out of the canyon. He has to repel down a cliff, but is thrilled to find water at the bottom of the cliff, and drinks as much as he can. The water is kind of dirty, but he drinks until he sees a family of three and calls out to them with his last bit of strength. They come running, and give him some fresh water, which he drinks. Then another family comes, and Aron is going in and out of consciousness. He feels a burst of wind, and he sees that a helicopter has come to take him to a hospital.
The scenes switch back and forth between the helicopter ride and Aron swimming in a clear and beautiful pool with 1 and 1/2 arms, and then coming to the surface to see his family sitting on the same couch that he saw them on in the canyon when he was hallucinating. Then, we see the real Aron Ralston sitting on a couch with his wife Jessica, and the screen says that his premonition came true, and that in February of 2010 they had their first child, a son named Leo.
The screen fades to black and says that Aron is now a Motivational Speaker and that he still climbs all the time.
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