Q&A with 127 Hours Director

During an interview with the Current, Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) explained why his new film 127 Hours is more than just a survival story. He considers it a journey of self-discovery. Boyle, 54, says he hopes audiences can find value in that and maybe even become part of the narrative themselves.

What resonated with you as a filmmaker about Aron Ralston’s autobiography? I found it exhilarating and intense. Here was this incredible athlete who goes into this canyon as this independent, self-sufficient superhero. When nature stops him with that rock, he has to look at himself. I think that helps him get out as much as his individual courage does. He achieves a kind of grace he learns by recognizing his faults.

Do you consider Aron a hero? Some people could argue he’s simply a reckless adventurer. I think he’s both. There is something more important and deeper he ends up having to understand. In order to be our hero he has to make a big change in his heart and mind. I hope that builds within his character, so when he does cut his arm off you are involved in a way. It’s not something horrific you are watching, it’s something you are willing him on to do.

Do you think that’s part of the reason some moviegoers are fainting during the amputation scene? It is very graphic but not gratuitous, so it has to be something more than just the act itself.

I think it’s an extreme empathetic reaction rather than being something out of a horror movie. You are so intensely involved in him that you feel vulnerable.

Entertainment Weekly has already dubbed it “Franco limb syndrome.” (Laughs) Well, with a scene like that, the studio was very nervous. You can sensationalize it by pushing the horror and making it really gross or you can trivialize it by not showing enough of it. Aron has said he left that canyon a more complete person than when he went in, even though he had to leave part of his arm behind.

It wasn’t hard for me to watch as much as it was to listen to the way you use sound to depict the pain he is going through. That’s all in the book. The part where he breaks his arm, he describes it in the book as this incredible gunshot going off in the canyon. He also described approaching a nerve — and we had to find an equivalent for it — as plunging your hand into red-hot volcanic lava and just leaving it there. Not only did he feel that pain, but he pushed through it in order to get to the other side.

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