Over the weekend, I saw a screening of 127 Hours, a soon-to-be-released film by Danny Boyle and starring James Franco that’s about Aron Ralston, the guy who you likely heard about back in 2003, when he got trapped by a boulder in a remote corner of Utah’s Canyonlands, and wound up breaking both bones in his trapped arm, and then cutting his arm off entirely–with a cheap, dull Swiss Army-knockoff knife–in order to escape and save his life. It’s a fantastic, intense, terrifying, adrenalizing, mildly traumatizing and extremely immersive flick. The kind that leaves you feeling as though you just sawed off your own arm (not to mention ready to put a serious chunk of cash on James Franco in next year’s Oscar pool). After the film, Santa Barbara’s Film Festival Director Roger Durling did a Q&A with Boyle, producer Christian Colson and writer Simon Beaufoy, and what they had to say about their experience working with Ralston to adapt his book (titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”–the understatement of the century) for the screen got me thinking.
During those 127 hours, Ralston had a lot of time to think about the way he’d chosen to live his life up until then–as a loner. An adventurous one who devoted himself to the activities he loved, yes, but one who’d taken that to the extreme, isolating himself to the point that he wondered whether anyone would realize he was missing. Although, even if they did, it wouldn’t do him much good–he hadn’t bothered to let anyone know where he was going. Boyle, Colson and Beaufoy emphasized one scene in the film, when it dawns on him that perhaps this is not the best way to live, Franco-as-Ralston says that it’s as though the boulder that had fallen and trapped him had been waiting for him his entire life. As though the universe had conspired to put him in this life-or-death situation, because it was the only way for him to realize the change he so desperately needed to make.
It’s an extreme case, to be sure, but, in a way, it gets at a universal. Have you ever looked at a friend and wondered when she’ll give up the ghost, and move on already? Maybe it’s the party girl who was–um, much like the rest of us–an unrepentant party animal in college, but who, decades on, can’t seem to get beyond defining herself that way–and making decisions that reinforce her identity as such. Maybe it’s the Type-A overachiever, the one who still refuses to cede control, who forces everything–and everyone–to go along with what she has planned, unforeseen feelings, circumstances, or opportunities be damned. Maybe it’s the one who hates her job, her apartment, her boyfriend–or all of the above–but, for whatever reason, can’t seem to break free. It’s like those poor souls who find themselves on What Not To Wear, ferociously defending their Farrah Fawcett hair and corduroy jumper because it was a good look–30 years ago. It’s as though, at a certain point, it becomes impossible to separate our true self from whatever definition, plan, or uniform we’ve lived in for so long. Patterns are tough to change; habits are tough to break. They’re so easy, so comfortable. We don’t have to give too much thought to what we’re doing when we’ve been doing the same thing for decades. But that’s exactly the trouble: we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing for decades. The problem with clinging to who we once were is that, in doing so, we’ll never be able to become who we could be.
Stuck in a rut. Such a perfect metaphor. It’s dangerously easy to become so deeply entrenched in a pattern, we become incapable of seeing that there’s any other way. The groove’s too deep; the walls are too high. But, if you can manage to pull yourself out of it, you’ll find that the view looks entirely different. Unfortunately, getting a fresh perspective is often easier said than done–although, with any luck, most of us will find a way to get there without staring death in the face and literally hacking ourselves apart in order to get free. We may even realize that opportunities to do things differently are lurking within every minute of every day. And once we do it, once we make just the smallest change, we may find that the bigger ones seem less scary–maybe even kind of exciting–and that the old way, once as comfy as a security blanket, no longer holds much appeal. That, in fact, that Farrah Fawcett ‘do never did look that good on us, after all.