Archive for January 27, 2011

Until very recently I was quite unaware of a concept called creative diffidence. Or let’s say creative insignificance. I always thought talent was immeasurable. Everyone had their own share and it’s really upto you to do what you will with it. And even if you had been passed up your share then passion, intellect, skill or some such thing made up for it. Then one day I was speaking to a copywriter friend who is an ardently devoted worshipper (notice the redundancy, its purposeful) of Frank Zappa. This friend plays the guitar, composes and also has set up this small studio at his place to further his passion for music. That night along with waxing eloquent on his studio he was going on about Zappa too and he caught my breath (yes, note that disjunct too) when he said that listening to Zappa makes him feel totally disheartened. Why? The bewildered me asked. He replied, ‘Because I feel so inconsequential as an artist when I listen to his genius. I mean, here is Zappa who is a genius and here I am, doing what I am doing which doesn’t even compare. So why I am doing it at all?’

The stubbornly optimistic, idealistic girl inside me refused to understand what he said then. But those very words and that drowning sort of sentiment in his voice kept coming back to me as I watched 127 hours.

I knew Boyle is a genius. And so is Rahman. I like Franco and loved the premise. It had got spirit, adventure, optimism, fight, survival written all over it, things that make me go very smack-my-lips even in real life. In all truth I went to watch the story of Aron Ralston, not a Danny Boyle film. What I got threw me off with a 50,000 mph force of a meteorite, probably the same ancestor of Ralston’s boulder…

I went in with the expectation to be ‘inspired’ by the story but kept getting awe-struck at the shot-taking. All throughout, right till the end I kept thinking, ‘How the fuck did he shoot that? How the fuck did he execute that? But before execution comes thinking. Imagination. Every time I am bowled over by genius I always ask myself this bewildered question, ‘How did he even think of this?’ Ralston’s story has courage, human spirit, and all elements that have the 100% potential of the drama kind of romance. But Boyle chooses to tell the story just how it happened. Or must’ve happened (I’m not googling now, you do it.) No yarn about spirit, no yawn about courage, no senti about spirituality, no unnecessary emotion. When I first heard of the story and the digital medium and the approach I told myself, ‘Documentary-ish! No, I don’t think I am gonna watch this.’ Oh, dear meteorite in heaven, am I glad I did?

As soon as Ralston gets stuck, I was like aaah, now he is gonna get heroic. He didn’t. Then I thought now he is gonna get emotional, he did a bit but so not hysterical. Then I thought now, its just time for him to get all super-human. In a sense he did otherwise he couldn’t have done what he did, but that was so loaded with sheer desperation and that very vulnerably human wish to live that it all fit in so beautifully. Actually it was a revelation…of realism. At every step my melodrama/drama-fed/trained mind kept getting pleasantly surprised at being second-guessed and being told, ‘Wait, THIS is how a young man trapped by a boulder in a crack in a canyon without a hope for survival would react.’ And yes I agree, that was indeed how a man would react…Funny how a film can take you closer to real life.

While Boyle was keeping me enthralled with the brilliant character disclosure layer by layer he was also doing his own thing on the sly. Ace-gimmicker (I know that’s no word but you know what I mean and its all GOOD!) his aces in his sleeves kept falling out one after the other like Ralston’s hope. His dreams, his hallucinations and his attempts to rescue himself. To completely cliché myself I have to say those are set-pieces of cinematic brilliance that we don’t see often. With the razor-sharp editing Boyle blends the reality, unreality and surreality of Ralston’s situation such that all one is left with is a breath caught in one’s throat. Like when he blends Ralston’s dreams of being rescued by the rain and the other brilliant illusions he sets up for that catch of breath. How did he even think of those?

Like everyone, I had tons of issues with Slumdog and it wasn’t all to do with the portrayal of India. That’s why when I read, Screenplay – Danny Boyle and Simon Beafuoy, I was like, ‘ahem’. But this time it is sheer brilliance. The character arcs, plot points, drama and suspense are perfectly poised. At the same time retaining the essence of the story and telling it with complete honesty and respect.

I am no encyclopedia on film-making but I’ve never watched an exposition of the film as brilliant as this one. Tight, concise and full of adrenaline. And unlike most films who bother a little too much about story or experience this one was all about character. He did not need to but he did. We know Ralston as a carefree, sanguine young man in love with his expeditions. Canyon is his world he has been here many many times. Watching his exuberance at doing what he loves doing we feel, ‘Yes, this is how a man in love should be like. Happy.’ And it is this sense of security that is shattered but without shattering the man behind it. Was it that Ralston had genes from Krypton? Maybe. But what Boyle shows us is clearly a psychological study of a young human with, well, a very vulnerably human wish to live.

I thought I’d come out all blushed about the spirit of survival and all that but in fact I came out gushing about the sheer artistry with which this has been crafted. There is no mood to evoke, just the starkness of events as they happen. Not documentary re-telling but sharp, precise and edgy narrative. Not soft at the edges but yet blurred with the in-n-out surreality to suck us deep into Aron’s desperately befuddled senses.

It is tempered throughout by Rahman’s music like a perfectly matched couple doing a tango and then ballroom and then ballet. And the use of silences was almost post-coital bliss-like…He doesn’t miss a beat like Franco doesn’t. It’s unimaginable to believe he is acting or he is being filmed…the tenseness, the fatigue, the pain and the desperation, it’s palpable without a false note.

The film ends on a soft note of Aron living a happy and fulfilled life today, still doing what he loves that is adventure sports. But again, it is the part-quirky, part tongue-in-cheek, part-sentimental note it ends on that showed me Boyle for the genius that he is. It could have easily ended dead-pan or dramatically. Or it could suddenly put a sentimental spin given the climax is quite cathartic. But Boyle chooses a lighter tone yet conveys so much more! For all those who have watched it you know what I am talking of. For all those who haven’t, please watch it and experience it for yourself.

To come back to my opening para and heading. The film made me dazzlingly optimistic about human genius and the explosive talent that we as a race are so capable of. You know the kind that totally makes you proud to say you are a homo-sapien if you met an alien from Mars? It made me believe that its so possible! There IS vision, there is talent, there is imagination and there is skill and there are also those rare moments in history when all of these come together in all the men/women working with you and you make something like this. Maybe someday even I will discover this dazzling genius inside me and the product of my creative imagination will be my nirvana because if I made a film like this I’d happily die and go to heaven. But then I look at our geniuses again and think, ‘Here they are, these geniuses and here I am, doing what I am doing which doesn’t even compare. So why I am doing it at all?’

FC Ed – Click here to see the real Aron Ralston narrating his story.