Framing '127 Hours' And 'The Social Network'

                                                           Photo: Columbia Pictures

127 Hours star James Franco and The Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg were recently featured on THR's Awards Watch Actor's Roundtable. Franco recently portrayed real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, while Jesse Eisenberg portrayed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher's The Social Network. Both films have garnered quite a bit of oscar buzz and both Franco and Eisenberg are likely to recieve best actor nods at next year's Academy Awards for their respective portrayals.

At one point in the hour-long discussion, both actors were asked to share their approach on taking on a real-life character. Director Danny Boyle was very much involved with Aron Ralston throughout the entire process of making 127 Hours, as he wanted to make sure to depict Aron's situation accurately and faithfully. As James Franco stated in the roundtable discussion, he did spend some time with Ralston, but mainly entrusted Danny Boyle to steer him in the right direction with the performance.

Also, an interesting point that James made is that no one really knows what Aron Ralston acts like in real life; the general public isn't familiar with the way he speaks or his mannerisms, so this allowed James the freedom to make the character his own in some ways, but while also honoring the fundamentals of Ralston's story.

On the other hand, it is pretty well known at this point that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hasn't put his seal of approval on Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of him in Fincher's The Social Network, or the film itself for that matter. In fact, Zuckerberg has gone on record to say that many aspects of Fincher's film are misleading or just totally fabricated. This surely isn't Eisenberg's fault, as he stated in the roundtable discussion that he really wanted to meet and get to know Zuckerberg before filming the movie, but the producers wanted no part of this.

Needless to say, Eisenberg's depiction of Zuckerberg shouldn't evoke many positive feelings about the guy. Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter, basically reduces him to being a socially inept, greedy, selfish asshole. Sure, Sorkin uses Zuckerberg to personify capitalism and corporate america, and I guess he's making the point that Zuckerberg functions more as a computer with all his mechanicalness and social malaise. However, this narrow perspective offers little to no sympathy or redeeming characterization for the guy.

Speaking of Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, it is actually pretty brilliant in many ways. Fincher is obviously a great filmmaker, but in this case I give the most credit to Sorkin, who really made it easy for Fincher. The story is pretty enthralling from the first shot to the closing credits, no matter how skewed it is. The pacing is wonderful, and the dialogue is so sharp that it brings to mind the rythmic, cynical "Mamet Speak" of David Mamet's brilliantly written Glengarry Glen Ross. By the way, that film also has some major capitalist/corporate america subtext.

That said, I do have some small gripes with Sorkin's screenplay, which basically reflect a general problem that I have with the film itself---that being a feeling that the film doesn't know if it wants to glorify or condemn Zuckerberg's behavior. It's a fairly one-dimensional portrayal, and I for one was not very emotionally invested in the character. However, I can't help but feel that Fincher and Sorkin might want us to side with the hipster-cool wit of Mark Zuckerberg as opposed to the douchebag-demeanored Harvard twins whom Zuckerberg maliciously screwed over. We most certainly feel for Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) but I really can't get behind anyone else.

More on The Social Network and 127 Hours after the jump.

A lot has been said of the way Danny Boyle chose to tackle the subject matter in 127 Hours. Knowing that Boyle has a very unique style of filmmaking that often involves lots of cuts and very kinetic camera work, it's not a total surprise that he stuck to his guns with this one. I absolutely admire the fact that he dared to take on a project like this coming off his recent Oscar success. It's a ballsy move, and certainly could of been disastrous were the project not in the hands of, well, him. It's a testament of his greatness and his daring persona as a filmmaker.

                                                     Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Boyle's protagonist in 127 Hours is Aron Ralston, played magnificently by James Franco. Interestingly enough, Aron also serves as the film's antagonist. He is characterized as a young man out of tune with the social world and especially out of tune with the relationship's he has with those who are closest to him. Aron seems to only be interested in his relationship with the great outdoors. While hiking in a remote part of Utah he stumbles upon the wrong rock crevice and ends up with his arm pinned between a literal rock and a hard place. It brings to mind the old metaphorical expression, "if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword"; only in Aron's case, his sword is nature. One could view this rock which has pinned his arm as a rehabilitation device, as it eventually leads Aron to see the significance of human relationships. Aron ultimately is overcome by the desire to reconnect with his loved ones and does something pretty drastic to ensure that he has a chance to be with them again.

The film's predominant theme relates to the endurance of the human spirit and Ralston's will to be alive. Boyle's camera reinforces this theme by moving all over the place. The audience is right there in the crevice with Aron but the camera wants to take us elsewhere, whether it be via flashback or hallucination. Even when Ralston is stuck in the middle of nowhere he's imagining (and at certain times re-imagining) his life as it exists outside of that crevice. This theme and the way in which Boyle expresses it probably often gets overlooked or not fully realized, but it's really a fresh, effective and unique way of telling this story.

The emotional value of the film is compromised slightly as a result of Boyle's hyperactivity, and there are a few dull moments within some of the hallucinations and flashbacks. The film clocks in at an economical ninety minutes, but it could of benefited from having five or ten minutes knocked off of its runtime. However, the film's triumphs certainly outweigh any shortcomings, and it's a testament to Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy that such narrative limitations can be overcome to engage an audience for eighty to ninety minutes.

Boyle's directorial style in this film fully personifies Aron Ralston. He's foolish and selfish, with boyish charm and a daredevil mentality. James Franco fully captures all of these things. Credit him for being able to then add the necessary emotional punch, and also credit Boyle for believing in Franco to carry such a grueling, hit-or-miss task.

While 127 Hours succeeds at faithfully and accurately framing its subject matter, The Social Network succeeds at riveting audiences at the expense of its protagonist. The general public probably isn't concerned whats truth vs. fiction, but for me, there's something ethically wrong about an unauthorized, unflattering and ultimately skewed representation of a living person. The film is perhaps a masterpiece when looked at as just a work of fiction; the only problem is that I know it's not just that.

VIDEO: Awards Watch Roundtable: The Actors


  1. I agree with your view on character Development in 'The Social Network’. I didn’t no which way to go emotionally with most of the characters especially the protagonist. Sorkin and Fincher maybe felt that the characters did not need book ending and generalised that way? Maybe that’s why the conclusion of The Social Network was not book ended in the typical style most mainstream films are concluded. I have also been a massive fan of Danny Boyle since I first watched Trainspotting when I was about 12. His style is unique and I look forward to watching every new production he gets involved in.
    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and assessments on both 127 hours and The Social Network. I read this blog from IMDB. It’s the first time I have been on your website, good work.

  2. Thank you for reading and also for the kind words. I'm new to all of this, but it's nice when someone finds some value in the things I write about. And yes, Boyle rocks.