February 22, 2011

"127 Hours" and Our Real Problem

127 Hours is a film based on the true story of Aron Ralston and his New York Times bestselling book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Atria Books, 2004).
Disclaimer: I’ll try to explain the film without giving too much away, but consider this your “Spoiler Alert.”
While exploring a remote area near Canyonlands National Park in Utah, Aron Ralston (played by Academy Nominated James Franco) gets stuck in a crevasse with his right arm pinned against the wall by a boulder. The film explores the thoughts, emotions and challenges facing Ralston while he is stuck in the cave for 127 hours.  The film – and Franco in particular – do a good job of exploring both the realization of the problem and the process of solving that problem.
The original lure of the film is watching how this man will survive. I had assumed that the climax of the film would be when Ralston finally gets free from the boulder that trapped him. However, the filmmakers surprised me with where they placed the climax. The story takes an unexpected turn when it identifies the actual “problem” facing our hero.
It can be argued that the main dilemma in the film is that Ralston is stuck in a crevasse with a rock crushing his arm, with limited tools to get un-stuck, and a severe lack of food and water to sustain him. However, the filmmakers seem to suggest that the main problem is the self-centered and individualistic operating system that Ralston works from. 
Surprisingly, Ralston never blames the rock for falling, himself for making a mistake while hiking his way through the wilderness, or even God. Ralston realizes that the main problem facing him is his arrogance and ego which led him to believe that he didn’t need any help.  He assumed independent capability, so he didn’t tell anyone where he was going when he left for his adventure. 
After cutting himself free from the boulder – in what was simultaneously the most uncomfortable and compelling scene of the film – Ralston staggers his way through the wilderness until he sees a group of people walking ahead of him. The moment that he realizes he is not alone is also the moment he has hope. He uses every last bit of his energy to cry out for help… and the help comes. In the next few moments you see Ralston drink the water and receive the help he so desperately needed, and he returns home.
Now, let’s briefly explore a few application points:
  • I assumed Ralston’s problem in 127 Hours would be the boulder crushing his arm, but after seeing the film I realized that the actual problem for Ralston was something internal.  
  • Do we really believe that our actual problem is internal (i.e. we are sinful), or do we still operate as though our real problems in life are external and circumstantial situations we face?
  • Do we really believe that other people’s main problem is internal, or do we think that their main problems are external and circumstantial situations they face? How does the answer to this question formulate our engagement with our friends and the culture at large?

The “saving moment” in 127 Hours isn’t when Ralston is released from the boulder but rather when his cry for help was met.
It isn’t any different when it comes to us in the real problem that we face (i.e. sin). When we are faced with the idea that our problem is our sinfulness we can respond by thinking and acting in one of the following three ways:
  • Irreligion – I am not really a sinner and there is no God (or gods), therefore I can live how I want because I am the ultimate authority for my own life. 
  • Religion – I am a sinner, and even though there is a God (or gods) and Christ may (or may not) have died for me, I must ultimately save myself through my own works.
  • Gospel – I am a sinner and I can’t save myself, but Christ lived a sinless life, died for my sin, and rose from the dead. When I cry out for Christ to be the Lord of my life and to save me, he will turn and rescue me.  I am saved from the power of sin in my life, and also the consequences of sin before God through accepting Christ’s work in my place.
    [Please note that these three points are borrowed from Timothy Keller’s “Gospel in Life” Bible study, pages 14-30.]

Finally, it’s interesting that this film says: “You can’t make it on your own.” This speaks to me not only of our need for a Savior – whom is exclusively Christ – but also for us to commit to and deeply engage in a local church.
Check out http://www.9marks.org/what-are-the-9marks/ to see how I’m defining church. I’ll give you a hint though: Grabbing a beer in a pub or a coffee at Starbucks and talking about philosophy, theology and/or ethics doesn’t replace involvement in a church – not even if you listen to sermons online or read blogs in addition to meeting friends in pubs or at Starbucks.
If you have already watched or want to watch 127 Hours the viewing guide below may be helpful for further reflection.
Viewing Guide for 127 Hours
1) Think about the vital role that water plays in the film. How is it treated in the different stages of the film?
2) (Read John 4:1-14) Do you think there are any areas of correlation between how water is viewed in the film and the John 4 passage?
3) What can we learn and apply about recognizing our sin and repenting of it through Aron Ralston’s realization of his main problem in 127 Hours?
4) (Read Luke 8:9-14) The tax collector does not actually say what you see in the English translation of verse 13, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He uses the definite article in the Greek, which means that he says: “God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” What can we learn about the tax collector’s realization of his sin in Luke 8:13? (Keller, Gospel in Life – page 32)

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to sit down with you after a watching of Tron:Legacy. I found it had fascinating explorations of the concept of an intimate creator figure that would make a great conversation piece.