Character Arc

In 127 Hours, immediately after the midpoint, we’re treated to Aron’s video camera antics and the hilarious spoof radio show self-examination. This is a superb blend of comedy and tragedy. Aron reveals the fact he’s always seen himself as a ‘big fucking hard American superhero’ who can do everything ‘on his own’.

This segment is writing of the highest quality. The hero has a moral and a psychological revelation. John Truby describes a psychological revelation as being a self-realization that affects the hero directly, that is, causes him to see how he is destroying himself.

A moral revelation in Truby terms is our hero’s realization that his actions are hurting the world around him: loved ones, friends, society.

Most heroes will have one revelation but in great movies like 127 Hours the hero will have both. Not only does Aron stop blaming his mother and take responsibility for his own actions, admitting he has been living his life with ‘supreme selfishness’ but he tells his parents directly into the camera how he wishes he’d told them how much he appreciates them.

Not only do we see Aron scream for help from strangers in the resolution of the movie illustrating Aron’s character arc, but Danny Boyle points us back to this theme of family love and connectedness with a little insert during the closing credits:

“Now Aron always leaves a note to say where he’s going.”

This pays off the opening dialogue where his sister leaves a message on the answerphone asking him to call his mom back as ‘she worries’.

So Aron’s moral revelation is realized: he has changed the world around him, outside of himself. Due to his harrowing ordeal he has lost his selfishness and now thinks of others ahead of himself.

But the genius of Danny Boyle’s and Simon Beaufoy’s script here is how Aron’s revelation – that his ‘supreme selfishness’ led him to this place of extreme suffering – is delivered with a ‘spoon full of sugar’ gift-wrapped in scathingly funny self-deprecating dialogue.

So what actually should be a tragic moment has us weeping with laughter. But then, as we’re pulled back to the seriousness of the situation, we’re crying again, our tears of laughter mingling nervously with tears of pain.

Perfect writing.

Recommended reading: Anatomy of Story by John Truby

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