Wednesday night’s premiere of “127 Hours” at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater was in many ways business as usual for Danny Boyle’s film.
It got lots of attention for the energy and imagination Boyle brought to the story of trapped hiker Aron Ralston. It picked up rave reviews. And afterwards, the headlines were all about the audience member who collapsed during the film and required medical attention.
“People use the mantra that all publicity is good publicity,” Boyle told theWrap in a recent interview. “I’m not sure it is in this case.”
For “127 Hours,” the focus has relentlessly gone to one scene: the moment toward the end of the movie when Ralston, played by James Franco, painstakingly breaks his own arm, which is trapped beneath a boulder, and then cuts off his forearm with a dull pocket knife.
The scene doesn’t last long, but in some ways it is excruciating to watch, with a few graphic images of flesh, bone and tendon. And from the film’s first showings at the Telluride Film Festival to its premiere on Wednesday, tales have spread of how audience members have fainted when that scene comes around.
A few of the stories have been accurate, others uncertain: the altitude in Telluride could have played a major factor. According to the Los Angeles Times, the woman who suffered a seizure at Wednesday’s premiere did so 45 minutes into the movie, long before the gruesome scene; Boyle later told the crowd that her episode was related to a diabetic condition.
“We’ve definitely had screenings where some people had seen too much, and we think it’s an empathy thing, not a gross-out thing,” said Boyle. “You’ll see far worse in ‘Jackass 3D’ or other movies. But James pulls you in so much with the performance, and you feel so vulnerable.”
Boyle admitted that a brief glimpse of Franco cutting the nerve in his arm makes people particularly squeamish, but said that the moment came directly from Ralston’s book, to which he tried to be particularly faithful.
“I thought quite deeply about whether we should cut the movie when this first started happening,” he said. “And God bless the studio [Fox Searchlight], they left the decision to me. And I thought, no, it would be wrong to change it now.
“We deliberately followed the book in this case, probably more carefully than in any other part of the movie, and to change it would be to trivialize what he went through in some way.
“I think the measure of it is just about right. It’s not sensationalized, and it’s not trivialized to make it look too easy or too quick.”
That said, Boyle added that he was disturbed by the episodes, both for the people involved and for the effect on the rest of the audience.
“I was in some of those screenings, and you worry about the people and if they’re okay,” he said. “And everyone around them worries about that too, quite rightly. But that takes everybody out of the film, which is distressing.
“You never want that, even though one of the guys who fainted came to and saw us and said, ‘By the way, guys: really good film.’”
If the current publicity for “127 Hours” isn’t exactly good publicity, though, Boyle does think it could have one salutary effect.
“I hope people will be a bit pre-warned, and I think they will be now,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of screenings, and you do see people looking away, which is fine. But a lot of people are getting through it like Aaron got through it: let’s do this as a part of this passageway out of here.”
More of theWrap’s conversation with Boyle and James Franco to come …