127 Hours & The Mortification of Sin

Posted: November 29, 2011 by jperritt in Action, Drama
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)

There has been much talk about Danny Boyle’s Oscar-nominated film 127 Hours [2010], which was based on the true life story of an adventurer, named Aron Ralston [James Franco], who was forced to amputate his own arm after a rock pins him in Bluejohn Canyon. Most of the talk I had read and heard centered on ‘the scene’. The scene I’m obviously referring to is the scene depicting Aron cutting off his own arm. There have been reports of people vomiting, passing out (I actually knew a guy who did) and theaters putting up signs warning people about the graphic nature of ‘the scene’ – I’ve watched the movie twice and still haven’t been able to watch the entire scene.

All of that to say, my thoughts about the film had been focused on that scene, so I wasn’t prepared for how much I actually liked and appreciated this film. In my opinion, 127 Hours was the best picture of 2010 – with The Social Network in a very close second. Boyle’s direction of this film was amazing. To take a story where the main actor is in complete isolation for the majority of the film and tell it in a way that is intriguing, exciting, emotional and celebratory, that is a feat many directors (and actors for that matter) would shy away from. However, that was the main reason Boyle said he wanted to tell the story, because of the challenge it presented.

127 Hours is a film that resonates with anyone who has a pulse, because the theme of love and community are central to the story. Wesley Hill wrote an excellent article at Ransom Fellowship, dealing with those themes, but I wanted to focus on another aspect of this film.

Aron Ralston is a self-professed, “Big, hard, hero who can do everything on his own.” At the opening of the film we have flashes of scenes depicting crowds of people together, but Ralston is seeking isolation. He lets his phone go to voicemail, he passes a group of bike riders, and as he enters Bluejohn he exclaims, “Just me, my music and the night, love it!” He is a narcissistic loner who thinks he doesn’t need anyone else.

It’s interesting that Ralston runs into two other hikers, who are lost, and ironically exclaims, “You’re lost, I’m a guide, I’m good.” He is essentially telling these two hikers, ‘You need help from another person.’ In actuality, Ralston is lost and he needs help from other people, but he doesn’t see that his modus operandi completely contradicts what he exclaims to these hikers. He is enslaved to his idol of independence.

We make idols out of anything and everything. As John Calvin once said, ‘Our hearts are idol factories’ continuing to crank out new ones each and every day. Ralston’s idol of independence goes against the fact that we have been created in the image of a Triune God. Our Heavenly Father, however, graciously surfaces our idols causing us to make war with them.

God speaks to us through creation (general revelation) and Ralston’s character greatly appreciates the creation – rubbing his hands on rocks and taking pictures of creation – but misses the Creator behind it. It wasn’t until God used his creation to pin Ralston to a wall that he finally listened. In essence, God is saying, “You want isolation? You want self-sufficiency? I’ll give it to you.” Ultimately, God gave Ralston exactly what he wanted – isolation and independence. One of the scariest things God can do is give us what we want. Ralston had made his independence an ultimate thing, so God gave him over to that in order to show him his need. (For more on this, see Romans 1:18-32.)

At a crucial point in the film, Ralston reflects on this reality. He realizes God’s eternal wisdom and his own rebellion towards him.

You know, I’ve been thinking. Everything is… just comes together. It’s me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock… this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It’s entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It’s been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I’ve been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I’ve taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the surface.

Initially he fought against the rock, screaming, “This is insane!” He cursed the rock, hit the rock, begged for freedom, he even began chipping away at it, only to realize his actions actually caused the rock to rest more securely on his arm. All of his independence was fighting the rock, but the rock was fighting his independence. In the end, the rock won.

The sustaining power for Ralston in the canyon were memories; memories with other people. He reflects on time with friends and family during those excruciating 127 hours. As he’s leaving his last will and testament on his video camera, he says:

Mom, Dad, I really love you guys. I wanted to take this time to say the times we’ve spent together have been awesome. I haven’t appreciated you in the way I know I could. Mom, I love you. I wish I’d returned all of your calls, ever. I really have lived this last year. I wish I had learned some lessons more astutely, more rapidly, than I did. I love you. I’ll always be with you.

It is this desire – to love and to be loved – that shatters his idol. As he imagines a fake interview with himself he makes the statement to himself, “Your supreme selfishness is our gain.” He has been a selfish person who has not loved others as he should have loved them. In the end, he has a vision of another life, a life with a family that enables him to give away the love he had been hoarding for himself.

While the amputation scene is one of the most graphic scenes in film history, it is not done for exploitative reasons. Not only does the graphic nature of that scene emotionally pull you into the film causing you to, somewhat, feel what Ralston felt, it also depicts that he understood the error of his ways. The one thing he loved the most was himself. The cutting away of his arm, was cutting away at his root sin, rendering him dependent for the rest of his life.

As he finally severs his own arm, he looks up and says, “Thank you.” In a sense, realizing it wasn’t his own strength that caused him to do this, rather it was the love of God which enabled him to let go of his idol. When Aron climbs out of the canyon and screams, “Help me!”, it’s interesting to see that three people come to rescue him. I’m not saying this was the intent of the filmmakers, but it was reminiscent of the Trinity and it was interesting that a Father and Son were two of the three present.

This reminded me that true mortification of our sin/idols is not a work of man, but of God. The Father placed his love on us, the Son accomplished that through his perfect work and the Spirit enables us to kill the sin in our life. I’m not sure if Aron Ralston is a Christian, but this deeply afflicting trial in his life illustrates some Scriptural truths.

While I caution many viewers about the graphic scene in which Aron amputates his own arm, I would say this is a film that communicates deep theological truths. It shows us the love and design of community God has placed in our lives, the utter dependence we have on Him, the need to kill our idols for survival and the ways in which we must be others-minded in our lives. This film, I believe, will be a timeless one that is discussed for many years to come.

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Comments
  1. Henderson says:

    hi,

    this films represents what Jesus says in Matthew 5:30. Actually, this movie is a metaphor.
    There is other interesting part: when the guy cut off his arm, he pass through of a narrow path and it made me remember Matthew 7:14 “For narrow is the door and hard the road to life, and only a small number make discovery of it.” And after he passed, when he finally got out, he shows a lot happiness even without his arm.

    Praise God!!

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