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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It's one thing to create a thrilling movie set in the mad city of Mumbai with a pair of young lovers, romance and money. It's quite another to do it in the Utah wilderness with one man, one rock and a sawed-off arm.
But most film directors are not Danny Boyle, the Oscar winner of smash hit "Slumdog Millionaire."
His new film, "127 Hours," debuts in major U.S. cities on Friday telling the real-life tale of mountaineer Aron Ralston, whose forearm becomes pinned against a canyon wall by a boulder. Ralston had to crack the bones, slice through muscle and sever nerve tissue to rescue himself from certain death.
The movie has earned strong praise, and even Oscar buzz, at festivals for its fast pace and dynamic retelling of a lonely tale. Yet to hear Boyle tell it, the allure is not its gory ending of self-amputation. Rather, it is the strength Ralston draws from family, friends and loved ones hundreds of miles away to get through his ordeal.
"He begins to realize there's a movement toward something that, in order to have that will to survive, you have to possess," Boyle told Reuters, "and it's grace, actually, it's a kind of humility."
If ever there was a story that truly embodies the cliche' of being stuck between a rock and a hard place, it is Ralston's. In 2003, the experienced hiker and climber made the ultimate outdoor mistake. He went camping and did not tell anyone where he was going.
When easing down a mountain trail, he slipped and fell. A small boulder came crashing down with him and pinned his arm against the canyon wall, and Ralston was trapped. He was the only person who knew he was there.
After five days and roughly seven hours, he freed himself by cutting off his forearm with a dull pocket knife, walking out of a narrow canyon, scaling down a 65-foot rock wall and hiking eight miles before finally finding other hikers.
Ralston's tale won headlines worldwide and made good fodder for TV news and early morning chat shows. To many, it was a one-man horror story, but to Boyle, it was something else.
To get through his ordeal, Ralston drew on a spiritual connection to family and friends. A person who prided himself on being alone, Ralston discovered the key to survival was his desire to engage life and not withdraw from it.
"It's not about a mountain climber or a man in isolation, it's actually about a man who's looking out and connecting to people on the outside and trying to get back to them," James Franco, who portrays Ralston in the film, told Reuters.
But how does a filmmaker portray "127 hours" in 90 minutes and hold the audience's attention?
While Ralston is stuck in his hard place, chipping away at the nemesis the rock, audiences journey back through his life, meeting his friends, sister and parents.
When Ralston faces predicaments like drinking urine because he is out of water, audiences are part of the experience when the camera goes inside Ralston's pee-filled water bag. When the adventurer first tests his ability to cut himself, the camera's lens goes into his arm alongside the dull blade of the knife.
And then there are the videotapes. Ralston may not have told anyone where he was going, but he did bring a video camera on his journey and recorded himself saying farewell to his loved ones. In effect, he taped his own eulogy.
He had never shown the tapes publicly, but he did give them to Boyle and Franco to help them tell his story.
"It's not what he's saying, it's his behavior, the way he is," Franco said. "I spent days with Aron (preparing for the role) and it was incredibly valuable, but it's never going to be just the pure behavior and seeing him in that situation...that kind of stuff just hardly exists."
Editing by Jill Serjeant