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127 Hours: Aron Ralston Talks Survival

We chat to the real-life subject of Danny Boyle's harrowing biopic and find out how his indomitable fighting spirit saved his life

Word on the street is that the graphic nature of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours make it an exceptionally difficult film to watch, the truth is its tension, sentimentalism and bellowing optimism make all but the two minutes you’re cowering behind the seat in front extremely enjoyable. Crudely described, it’s the story of Aron Ralston (James Franco) who goes climbing alone in the wilderness of Utah, has an accident and spends six days trapped by a rock before he realises he has to butcher his arm off with a blunt old knife. Yet with incredibly subtle tory telling, Boyle stretches what on paper sounds like scenic torture-porn into a multi-layered cinematic wonder.

Dazed Digital met up with the real-life survivor of the story, Aron Ralston to separate fact from fiction and from the first second of meeting him, it’s all too obvious how he managed to survive. As he leaps enthusiastically round the room with awe-inspiring energy, you can’t imagine the magnitude of the phenomena needed to keep him still for even 127 seconds. Once he sat down – which was never for very long – we talked about his experience, having his other arm torn off and well, the meaning of life.

Dazed Digital: Was it a difficult experience watching the film with your family and friends?
Aron Ralston:
Yeah, there’s my experience of seeing it and then there’s my experience of seeing it with my family and friends and seeing it through them. Every time it’s been very emotional for me because of the reminders of how powerful love and those connections with people are. To then see the movie with those people in my life is a great blessing; it’s one of the most connecting experiences. Although, because of the public response, you walk into the movie basically knowing this is the story about the guy who cut his arm off, but really what the movie is about is what’s more important than cutting your arm off. I swear I thought I was going to lose my other hand because of how hard my mom was squeezing it when we watched the movie together!

DD: You’ve already gone through the reflective process in your book, but was watching the film cathartic in a different way?
Aron Ralston: Yeah, it absolutely was. You’re being catapulted in and propelled through the film, like the way a grape becomes more sweet and intense when it’s dried in the sun, it’s condensing 127 hours into ninety minutes. It actually makes it even more intense. For me it was all drawn out over six days, and to have that all compressed into that experience of sitting in a theatre, even though you’re in a very comfortable place, crying and laughing and heart-racing and it’s like... crazy!

DD: So when it got to the amputation scene, was that just as shocking or did you relate to that in a different way?

Aron Ralston: Yeah, it is shocking. But for me when I was doing it, it was with a smile on my face, I was going to get out of there. For five days I’d been convinced I was going to die in this place. I think that’s hard for people to understand, until maybe they see the film, because you’ve been trapped there too. The way Danny made the film structurally is that you’re really stuck there. Danny always saw it was to get people to root for him doing it, almost like you’re egging him on by that point, like “Go on, do it! Get out of there! Come on!” So when James Franco cuts his arm off, it’s this tremendous release of dramatic tension and also physically moving out of that place, just as it was for me.

DD: What really persuaded you to let Danny Boyle make the film? Was it something about Danny himself, or previous films you’d seen?
Aron Ralston: When I made the decision I hadn’t seen any of his films aside from Slumdog Millionaire. Actually I made my decision mostly on his personal vision, his personality, and common ground about how he wanted this to be an uplifting movie. To me this experience was one of the greatest blessings that will ever come to me, Danny sees it like that too: that this is a gift to share with people.

DD: How did the experience change you?
Aron Ralston: It was only a very recent time in my life before I could finally start to implement some of those epiphanies that I had in the canyon. Adventure is in some ways self-discovery. My ego still needed the validation of being able to prove that I’m still capable. So I needed to get back to climbing even more afterwards because now I’ve had a loss. People would ask me ‘how has this changed you?’ and I took pride in the first few years afterwards in saying ‘I’m happy to say that it hasn’t changed me a bit.’ And now I’m happy to say that, ‘no, it’s changed everything.’

127 Hours is out now