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"Don't pass out."
—Aron Ralston, to himself (and the audience)
While hiking in Blue John Canyon in Utah, Aron made a misstep when he grabbed on to a loose boulder while climbing down a narrow canyon. The boulder dislodged, and Aron and the boulder fell to the bottom, where the boulder crushed his right forearm against the canyon wall. The film dramatizes Ralston's experience of being trapped by the boulder for 127 hours, and the unthinkable choice he must make in order to survive.
- An Aesop: No man is an island. Nobody exists in isolation, and everyone needs help sometimes. Also, always tell people where you're going.
- And don't buy cheap knives.
- All Just a Dream: A sudden storm comes, Aron moves the boulder under the flooding water, and runs off to meet his girlfriend. As below, it is unclear whether this is a dream, hallucination, fantasy, or something else entirely.
- Babies Ever After
- Badass: Say what you will about how Aron got himself into his predicament, but cutting off your own arm with a pen knife takes balls.
- Based on a True Story: And how!
- Break the Cutie/Break the Haughty: The latter to a lesser degree. Aron is a very nice guy, but is shown as being a tad careless.
- Cat Scare: Used only once surprisingly. Aron feels something creeping up behind him. With his headlight dead, he decides to snap a picture of it. The flash shows an inflatable Scooby Doo, but the picture shows nothing to be there.
- Chekhov's Gag: Kristi and Megan invite Aron to a party, saying he can't miss it because there would be a 60-foot inflatable Scooby Doo (from Scooby Doo). If there actually was one is never known, but Scooby figures strongly in his hallucinations.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Pops up several times.
- Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover doesn't have a single picture showing Aron in the position he spends most of the movie in. There's a few pictures of him climbing, several of him cavorting with the girls, and even one of him on a snow-covered mountain. While all of those are seen in the movie, it's hardly representative of the action in the film.
- Determinator: Engineers in the audience will get a kick out of Aron's thought processes.
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- Friend to All Living Things:
"No Number Twos yet... which will disappoint my insect friends."
- Gallows Humor: Inevitable. At one point, Aron rips into himself for getting into this situation by conducting a mock radio interview with himself.
- Not only that, but an audience track is heard (obviously in Aron's head). Aron makes a joke to the "host" about how he won't be reported as missing until Wednesday, when he will surely be dead, and the imaginary crowd bursts out laughing, making the scene more unsettling.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Played straight many times. Unsurprising, given the subject matter. Of course, there's a few subversions thrown in, just to keep you on your toes.
- Fridge Brilliance: The fact that you can't see the gore all the time shows how inconveniently small the location is.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: Aron is frustrated and doesn't fail to let off a Cluster F-Bomb... but when he's filming himself and relating his situation to the camera, he prefers to defecation as "number two".
- I Did What I Had to Do: Aron breaking his arm then cutting it off with a dull penknife to free himself from the boulder. Justified in the movie and in the Real Life incident due to the fact that he tried everything he could over the 5 days to find a different solution.
- It Got Worse: In so many ways.
- Life or Limb Decision: The most famous, literal, and ultimate real-life example.
- Nobody Poops: Averted, in that he points out that he hasn't. So nobody does poop, but it's acknowledged that people do.
- Oh Crap: During the first day, when the camera slowly pulls back to reveal how remote the canyon is and how futile his screams for help are.
- Plus, when his thirst starts getting to him, there's a zoom all the way back to his car, and the Gatorade bottle he left there.
- Perma-Shave: Aron spends the better part of a week in the canyon, but his mustache/goatee does not grow at all.
- Justified. Some people have the same type of stubbly, uneven beard growth and no matter how long they wait, just doesn't grow more than that.
- And if you look at the pictures Aron took of himself (they're in his book,) you'd see he really didn't have much visible beard growth.
- Prolonged Prologue: Though the opening credits start right away, the actual title doesn't appear onscreen until Aron traps himself, about 15 minutes in.
- Real Person Cameo: Real Life Aron Ralston appears at the very end.
- Shown Their Work: Ralston himself said it was as accurate as possible without being a documentary. Ralston helped a little: he gave the filmmakers access to his video journal from inside the canyon.
- Sickening Crunch: You know the part. When he breaks his own bone to amputate his arm.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" appearing in the scene where Aron builds a pulley system in an attempt to get out from under the boulder.
- Unreliable Narrator: Which events really take place, which are memories, which are premonitions, which are fantasies, and which are hallucinations?