Film Reviews


By • Nov 30th, 2010 •

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Astonishing visual telling of a man who survived certain death without the aid of The Third Man.

The Third Man Factor is the term used to explain a phenomenon that people, at the very edge of death, often adventurers or explorers, experience – the sense of an incorporeal being beside them who encourages them to make one final effort to survive. Only a handful of people have ever experienced The Third Man. The Third Man, in the words of legendary Italian climber Reinhold Messner – “leads you out of the impossible.”

Mountaineers*, divers, polar explorers, prisoners of war, sailors, shipwreck survivors, aviators, and astronauts have all escaped traumatic events only to tell strikingly similar stories of having sensed the close presence of a helper or guardian.

I understand the concept of The Third Man, but what about all those people, facing certain death, that were not helped by him? This haunts me. What about Green Boots?**

The grave reality is that some 200 people still lie dead on Mount Everest. Over the years statistically speaking 1 out of every 10 successful climbs has ended in death.

Happy-go-lucky 26-year-old Aron Ralston (James Franco) is an experienced hiker. He is even a rescue volunteer. He knows Utah’s Canyonlands National Park like his own backyard. He is so skilled that he hikes solo, does not need a compass, doesn’t bother with a cell phone, and tells no one where he is going.

Aron does bring his iPod and a canteen of water.

After seeing Danny Boyle’s film, I’m not going anywhere – not even to the supermarket – without a hunting knife strapped to my leg.

Aron slipped while in Blue John Canyon and his right arm got trapped by a huge rock. For five days in April 2003, he could not move. Aron did have a video camera with him and recorded the harrowing ordeal. Impressively, Aron tried imaginative ways to free his arm, finally settling on self-amputation. I would have waited a few more days just in case. I did not watch this scene and I doubt I could have done it without a very sharp carving knife, medical manual, drugs, and The Third Man cheering me on.

This is a life-affirming survival story told with hypnotic brilliance by director Danny Boyle.

It poses the question for every viewer: What would you do?

What is made vitally important is the need for water to survive. And we all know how heavy water is to carry.

As a director, Boyle enhances the story by adding a chance encounter Aron has with two female hikers and his imagining of the events that are happening while he is trapped. More astonishing is the visual impact of where Aron is trapped. The image of his entombment is staying with me. It will scare you.

To think back now – I was so foolhardy to actually hike Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Zion National Park! Next time I go, I’m staying in the car. As Willard (APOCALYPSE NOW) has presciently said: “Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were goin’ all the way.”

Franco is a revelation. The film is just him and he gives a performance that runs the gambit of emotions while maintaining a secondary trait throughout – one of resolve and calm intelligence. This year has marked two impressive solo performances, Ryan Reynolds in BURIED and now, in a tour de force that eclipses Boyle’s revered SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, James Franco in 127 HOURS.

* Mount Everest is both the highest mountain and the highest graveyard in the world. A study was conducted from 1921 through 2006 to examine the mortality rate amongst climbers of Mount Everest. Here are the statistics: out of 8,030 climbers during this time frame, 212 died on the mountain. That is a staggering number of Mount Everest deaths!

Using those numbers it was determined that 56% died on their descent from the summit and 17% died after deciding to turn back prior to reaching the summit. The remaining 15% died on the way up or before leaving the summit. The 2009 Everest season ended with over 330 summits and 5 deaths on Everest and one on Lhotse.

** Green Boots is the name given to the corpse of Indian climber Tsewang Paljor, curled up in a limestone alcove cave on the North face route of Mount Everest. After Paljor and two others summited, on the way down, he died of exposure in the storm of May 10, 1996, one among the eight who died that day. Since the cave his corpse lies in is on the popular northern route, his body is encountered frequently and came to be known as “Green Boots”. British climber Ian Woodall plans to move the body of Paljor next year.

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One Response »

  1. Hi Victoria,

    Simply one of the best films and stories of survival that moved me to no end. It took me weeks to shake the story way before the book or film. I’m glad the editors picked this one for your opinions. Truly one of the best stories featuring a foreign director, make-up team and the most satisfying end to a film release last year. Once the film was over it would be hard to add another element that could make the film flawless… that eventually and patiently became your involvement.

    Perfection from fame one to the end…plus when all is said and done and the spectator tickets dwindled, you review was abducted into the same sentiment.

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