Monday, April 18, 2011

Musical Medleys, PSAs, and James Franco Cutting His Arm Off

I'm going to send you to a website that you're never going to want to leave. Of course, maybe you've already been there. I keep sending it to people and they tell me they've already been there. Annoying people hooked into the pulse of the internets! Stop being so on top of things!

Go to this page, turn up your sound, click on a few squares, and see what happens. Then click on more. Keep clicking! Write your name and see what it sounds like. Draw lines and grids. Draw the Grim Reaper! Draw flowers!

YOU ARE WELCOME. (Thanks, Jess!)

Moving on. The following is a public service announcement for people who are new to the activity of running/jogging. Newbie runners, in case you don't know: when given the choice between running safely on sidewalk or running safely on pavement, choose the pavement. If the choice is sidewalk, pavement, or dirt path, choose the dirt path. Please. Running is a high-impact activity. You cannot condition your body to it too slowly. Take it easy, take lots of rests for your joints and feet even if your heart is going strong; if you are new to the sport, do not run every day; listen to your body and don't run if it hurts; and choose the least-hard (safe!) running surface available to you. Things you inadvertently do to your joints now, even if it feels fine while you're doing it, have the tendency to come back back years later to haunt you. TRUST ME I KNOW.

This has been a public service announcement, inspired by many people I saw running on the sidewalk along Memorial Drive today, even though the paved road was closed to traffic and open to runners, and even though there's a dirt path along the river.

The rest of this post is about the movie 127 Hours, and I'm not going to say anything grisly, but if you've seen the movie and had a hard time with it, or if you don't want to hear about self-surgery, now is the time to stop reading.

I quite liked the movie, and was super-pleased that a film about a man stuck by himself in a canyon for 127 hours wasn't the least bit boring. James Franco was completely believable and sympathetic as Aron Ralston, the real-life adventurer who actually was trapped by a fallen boulder in a Utah canyon for 127 hours in 2003, finally escaping by cutting his own arm off with a blunt blade. I will say that just as advertised, the graphic parts are *extremely* graphic, such that some of the images -- one in particular -- were imprinted in my brain for about 24 hours after watching. I don't usually have a problem watching grisly things, so this is a testament to how grisly this thing was. I'm not surprised to read about people fainting, having panic attacks, or needing medical assistance while watching this movie, and I will warn you to take it easy if you're planning to watch it. If it's helpful, the most difficult part only lasts maybe 10 minutes, and it's very close to the end.

I like to read other people's reactions to movies to help me cement my own. I read a few reactions that made a big deal about the character's deep inner transformation and inner experience, and I can't say that I shared that reaction. I felt that Ralston as a person was dealt with rather shallowly, as was any personal transformation he underwent -- and please note that I'm not saying he was presented as a shallow person, nor am I saying that real-life Ralston was/is a shallow person (I don't know him, I haven't read his book, I have no idea what kind of person he is!). What I'm saying is that the character's inner life and outer relationships were dealt with rather shallowly by the writers of the movie. "I should answer the phone when my mother calls" and "I should leave notes when I go adventuring so people know where I am" are both important realizations (the latter being of life-and-death importance in this instance, obviously). "I'm a person who needs other people, I can't do everything myself, I'm not invincible, I take people for granted" can be profound, but at least within the 94 minutes of this movie, it was not the stuff of a fascinating character study. I'm fine with that. Ralston's physical experience is well more than enough to carry this story, and there can be no doubt that what he endured and then accomplished physically demonstrated an enormous emotional and mental depth and strength. This is a survival story, well-filmed and well-acted. It leaves you with your mouth hanging open in amazement at what Ralston physically survived, and what people in general are capable of.

(I was also a little amazed at my own abusive cheerleading. After he finally frees himself, he pauses for the merest instant to rest and recover from just having amputated his own arm. In that instant, I started yelling at the TV. "What are you doing? Don't just stand there! Gather your supplies and move! Move it, Aron!" I couldn't help myself. I was so desperate for him to survive, and it's not like he cuts off his arm and then everything is better. He's still in a canyon in the middle of nowhere all by himself, starving, dehydrated, bleeding, in terrible pain, and minus one climbing hand.)

It's a physical survival story, and I recommend it for that.

Relatedly -- if you're looking for a survival story in which the character, also based on a real-life person, demonstrates tremendous depth, intellect, conscience, and a (heartbreaking) inner transformation, I would say watch Into the Wild, about the wilderness trek of young Christopher McCandless, except -- and this is a spoiler, but it's an important one -- that is not a survival story. McCandless died on his trek. The movie is desperately sad in the end, but McCandless, as portrayed by Emile Hirsch, touched my own life. I felt privileged to know him.

127 Hours trailer:

Into the Wild trailer: