Danny Boyle’s true-life thriller 127 Hours is 94 minutes long, but there’s a five-minute stretch that the film is forever remembered… the sequence in which desperate outdoorsman Aaron Ralston (James Franco) — literally caught between a rock and a hard place — must break the bones in his arm and then slowly amputate his limb to escape.
“I thought the only way you’re ever going to be able to watch him cut his arm off, is if you believe that’s the only thing he can do,” Boyle told Yahoo Entertainment during a 2017 Director’s Reel interview while reflecting on the film, which turns 10 today (watch above, with 127 Hours discussion beginning at 5:30). “And if you think you would do that as well.
“And that was the idea of the film: Can we get the audience to that point where they think, ‘Do it. Just do it.’? Because that’s basically where he arrived.”
To shoot the not-for-the-squeamish scene, Boyle enlisted special makeup designer Tony Gardner to construct false arm rigs that were created in layers that included fiberglass, steel bone, silicone, fibrous muscle and tendon, functional veins and arteries, and a translucent silicone layer of skin with a thin layer of subcutaneous silicone fat.
“The amazing prosthetics [team] built these arms and then Franco, we just left him to it,” Boyle said of the actor, who earned an Oscar nomination for the role but whose profile in Hollywood has been tarnished in recent years due to sexual-misconduct allegations. “’Cause it was a bit like that, he just had to hack it off. It was a bit like Terminator for a while, because obviously it’s not a real arm. But there are other bits of it like, ‘Oh my God, it’s for real.’”
Knowing how dramatic Ralston’s actual story was in real life, there wasn’t too much Boyle and crew had to embellish.
“Aaron Ralston was obviously around, and it was very much his story that we were adapting,” Boyle said. “You have a responsibility to a faithfulness, but you also have your own responsibility toward film and drama and the moments, and you have to find a balance between those things, really. The authenticity was particularly important because how he survived and how he got out of there, what he overcame. So you can’t fictionalize that.”
Thus that very real Terminator arm.
127 Hours is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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