127 Hours star James Franco and The Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg recently appeared at THR’s Awards Watch actors roundtable. Most recently, Franco played real-life mountaineer Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, while Jesse Eisenberg played Facebook founder Mark. Zuckerberg on David Fincher’s “The Social Network”. Both films have garnered quite a bit of Oscar buzz, and both Franco and Eisenberg are likely to receive a best actor nomination at next year’s Academy Awards for their respective performances.
At one point in the hour-long discussion, both actors were asked to share their approach to taking on a real-life character. Director Danny Boyle was very involved with Aron Ralston throughout the making of “127 Hours”, as he wanted to make sure he portrayed Aron’s situation accurately and faithfully. As James Franco said at the panel discussion, he spent some time with Ralston, but mostly he entrusted Danny Boyle to guide him in the right direction with acting.
Also, an interesting point James made is that no one really knows how Aron Ralston acts in real life; the general public is unfamiliar with the way he speaks or his mannerisms, so this allowed James the freedom to make the character his own in some way, but at the same time honoring the fundamentals of Ralston’s story.
On the other hand, it’s pretty well known right now that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t put his stamp of approval on Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of him in Fincher’s “The Social Network,” or on the movie itself. . In fact, Zuckerberg has made it clear that many aspects of Fincher’s film are misleading or simply made up. This is surely not Eisenberg’s fault, as he said at the panel discussion that he really wanted to meet Zuckerberg before shooting the movie, but the producers did not want to be involved in this.
It goes without saying that Eisenberg’s description of Zuckerberg shouldn’t evoke many positive feelings about the boy. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin basically reduces him to being a socially inept, greedy, and selfish jerk. Sure, Sorkin uses Zuckerberg to personify capitalism and corporate America, and I suppose he’s pointing out that Zuckerberg functions more like a computer with all its mechanics and social malaise. However, this narrow perspective offers little or no redeeming sympathy or characterization for the boy.
Speaking of Aaron Sorkin’s script, it’s actually pretty brilliant in a lot of ways. Fincher is obviously a great filmmaker, but in this case I give more credit to Sorkin, who really made it easy for him. The story is quite riveting from the first take to the end credits, no matter how skewed. The rhythm is wonderful and the dialogue is so sharp that it recalls the rhythmic and cynical “Mamet Speak” from David Mamet’s brilliantly written “Glengarry Glen Ross”. By the way, that movie also has an important subtext of capitalist / corporate America.
That said, I do have a few small complaints with Sorkin’s script, which basically reflect a general problem I have with the film itself – the feeling that the film doesn’t know whether it wants to glorify or condemn Zuckerberg’s behavior. It’s a pretty one-dimensional representation, and I wasn’t very emotionally invested in the character. However, I can’t help but feel that Fincher and Sorkin might want us to side with the cold, nonconformist wit of Mark Zuckerberg as opposed to the scornful Harvard twins of idiots whom Zuckerberg maliciously screwed up. We’re certainly sorry for Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), but I can’t really endorse anyone else.
Much has been said about the way Danny Boyle chose to broach the subject in “127 Hours.” Knowing that Boyle has a unique filmmaking style that often involves a lot of cuts and very kinetic camera work, it’s not a total surprise that he stuck to this one. I absolutely admire the fact that you dared to undertake a project like this after your recent Oscar success. It’s a brave move, and it certainly could have been disastrous if the project weren’t in the hands of, well, him. It is a testament to his greatness and his daring personality as a filmmaker.
Boyle’s protagonist in “127 Hours” is Aron Ralston, magnificently portrayed by James Franco. Interestingly, Aron also acts as the film’s antagonist. He is characterized by being a young man out of tune with the social world and above all disconnected from the relationship he has with those closest to him. Aron seems to be only interested in his relationship with nature. While walking in a remote part of Utah, you bump into the wrong rock crevice and end up with your arm trapped between a literal rock and a hard place. Remember the old metaphorical expression, “if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword”; only in the case of Aron, his sword is nature. One could see this rock that has immobilized his arm as a rehabilitation device, as it ultimately leads Aron to see the meaning of human relationships. Aron is finally overwhelmed by the desire to reconnect with his loved ones and does something quite drastic to make sure he has a chance to be with them again.
The overriding theme of the film relates to the resilience 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 there in the rift with Aron, but the camera wants to take us elsewhere, be it through a flashback or a hallucination. Even when Ralston is trapped in the middle of nowhere, he is imagining (and at times reimagining) his life as it exists outside of that rift. This theme and the way Boyle expresses it is probably often overlooked or not fully understood, but it really is a fresh, effective, and unique way to tell this story.
The emotional value of the film is slightly compromised as a result of Boyle’s hyperactivity, and there are some dull moments within some of the hallucinations and flashbacks. The movie is inexpensively ninety minutes long, but it could have benefited from having five or ten minutes off its running time. 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 appeal to an audience of eighty to ninety minutes.
Boyle’s directorial style in this film fully epitomizes Aron Ralston. He’s goofy and selfish, with a boyish charm and a reckless mentality. James Franco completely captures all of these things. Give him credit for being able to add the necessary emotional punch, and also give Boyle credit for believing in Franco to carry out such a grueling and successful task.
While “127 Hours” manages to faithfully and accurately frame its theme, “The Social Network” manages to captivate audiences at the expense of its protagonist. The general public is probably not concerned with truth vs. fiction, but to me, there is something ethically wrong about an unauthorized, unflattering, and ultimately biased portrayal of a living person. The film is perhaps a masterpiece when viewed as a simple work of fiction; the only problem is that I know it’s not just that.