How many times have you said, “I’d rather cut off my right arm than …(fill in the blank)”? I’ll bet hundreds. But did you ever mean it? Aron Ralston did, but only after the alternative became death.

How many times have you said, “I’d rather cut off my right arm than …(fill in the blank)”? I’ll bet hundreds. But did you ever mean it? Aron Ralston did, but only after the alternative became death.


That was seven years ago in a desolate part of Utah, where his only companion was a raven patiently waiting for him to become dinner. What’s the hurry? The bird knew Ralston wasn’t going anywhere, not with that 300-pound rock trapping his right forearm against a canyon wall.


How Ralston came to give that crow the bird is the impetus behind “127 Hours,” Danny Boyle’s riveting account of Ralston’s six-day fight for survival against the elements and his own rapidly deteriorating mind.


Set half a world away from his Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” Boyle’s latest couldn’t be any more different. But look closer and you’ll see a surprising number of similarities, particularly in the hero’s refusal to give in to his dire circumstances.


But Ralston wins so much more than Freida Pinto and a million rupees; he wins his freedom, both from the rock and his narrow-minded view of the world.


It’s an inspiring transformation enhanced by the superb storytelling skills of Boyle and his “Slumdog” writer Simon Beaufoy, who take something as static as a man stuck under a boulder and make it electrifyingly kinetic. My heart is still racing.


And what gets you revved up is James Franco’s wrenching portrayal of Ralston, the very definition of a foolhardy loner who considers himself indestructible until the day he slips up while traversing a deep, narrow crevasse in Blue John Canyon.


That was in April 2003, a time of year when the nights grow cold, heavy downpours trigger flash floods and Easter miracles occur. I don’t want to get all religious on you, but it’s hard not to draw similarities between Jesus and Ralston, who were both reborn after finding themselves stuck behind massive stones. But instead of saving souls, Ralston merely saves himself from his self-imposed isolation.


Boyle, who once considered the priesthood, smartly taps into that spirituality by employing inventive ways to illustrate the loneliness and regret that fills Ralston’s mind, as he realizes how much for granted he takes his precious few human connections.


A lot of it is done through editing, camera tricks and familiar cinematic devices like flashbacks and hallucinations, but it’s the fear in Franco’s eyes that sells it best. With nary a word, he communicates everything Ralston is feeling, and dreading, as each agonizing hour passes with no sign of rescue.


Even if Ralston had told someone where he was going that weekend, it’s doubtful anyone would have found him, considering how invisible he had become at the bottom of a deep slot canyon more than 20 miles from the nearest road.


Boyle doesn’t waste a beat either, illustrating the depth of that isolation by having the camera slowly pull away until Franco becomes no bigger than a flea on an elephant’s back.


That shot, even more than the actual moment when Ralston severs his arm, gives you a severe case of the jeebies. That’s because it frightfully underscores the utter hopelessness of Ralston’s situation. But that’s no match for the awe Ralston’s resourcefulness elicits, as he never once panics. Well, OK, maybe once, when he nearly drowns in a flash flood. But for the most part, he handles everything in a remarkably well-thought-out manner, rationing his water, calmly saying his goodbyes to his family on his camcorder and making peace with his many regrets.


Most moving, though, are the prescient visions he has of himself with a small boy, presumably his future son, sitting on a couch smiling happily. It’s an image that both keeps him alive and gives him the courage to dispense with his arm.


When that moment comes, it’s as disturbing as you feared. But when the break, literally and figuratively, is made, a sense of euphoria fills you, and it only grows stronger as he continues his rugged journey back to civilization. And when he finally encounters another human being for the first time in days, you’ll be crying like a baby. It’s that intense. And it’s all due to Boyle presenting Ralston’s ordeal as not just a journey of survival, but a journey of the soul.


Al Alexander may be reached at aalexander@ledger.com.


127 HOURS (R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images.) Cast includes James Franco, Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn. Co-written and directed by Danny Boyle. 3.5 stars out of 4.