127 Hours is a drama inspired by the true story of a young extreme sports enthusiast who gets injured whilst ‘canyon’ climbing in a remote part of Utah. Having fallen down a crack in the earth, Aron's arm becomes trapped and he has limited supplies of food and water. After several days he realises extreme measures are required if he is to escape with his life. He makes a decision: to cut off the arm so he can climb for help.
Examiners noted that this is a tense and occasionally horrifying drama that explores nightmarish visions of injury and loneliness, but also celebrates the human spirit and the potential for endurance and enterprise.
The film was submitted to the BBFC in 2010 without a category request.
There are around fifteen uses of strong language, which established a 15 category as the baseline category for examiners. Though the strong language is contextually justified, several uses occur when Aron falls and realises he is stuck; there are too many uses to be accommodated at 12A where only ‘infrequent’ strong language is permitted by the BBFC Guidelines.
There are some mild sex references: in a few suggestive but undetailed scenes the trapped Aron fantasises about things that have happened in his life leading up to the present where, trapped and alone with no-one aware he is missing, he thinks about how he would like to have relationships in the future. There is a scene in a car in which several young people appear semi-naked, exposing their skin to the snow.
The critical classification issue is, however, a scene which generated column inches when 127 Hours was reviewed in the U.S - prior to its UK classification - which preview audiences were said to find too tough to watch. The sequence at 74 minutes includes strong, gory detail, as Aron finally decides to chop off his own arm with a relatively blunt penknife.
At 15 the BBFC Guidelines state that violence 'should not dwell on the infliction of pain and injury' and 'the strongest gory images are unlikely to be acceptable'.
As examiners noted, the detail here is strong as we see the hacking of flesh, some blood letting, sight of Aron breaking his own bone and CSI-style internal footage of the severing of the arm and the cutting of a nerve. The viewing experience is certainly likely to be intense for audiences. However, the context of the scene was considered carefully. This isn’t a horror image which relishes or invites pleasure in the gore or injury. In fact, although it presents like violence, or self-harm, this is the portrayal of an improvised surgical procedure, conducted in the most extreme of circumstances and is required to save a life. It also takes place in a work which is exploring, thematically, ideas of survival, independence, help and self-reliance.
These contextual arguments were taken into account in reports and discussions which concluded that though this is a strong gory image, it would be an over-literal reading of the guidelines to confine the work to the adult category, given its possible appeal to a slightly younger audience, and its clear points of difference from stronger violent films and horror works passed at 18.
However, given the potential for the scene to be ‘difficult to watch’, the BBFCinsight was created with care, so as not to completely spoil the scene for those viewers coming to the film unaware of the details of the story.
The BBFCinsight noted that 127 Hours contains 'one scene of strong gory injury and strong language' and longer version describes the scene:
"Aron's predicament, as he suffers the effects of thirst, hunger and cold, becomes increasingly tense and desperate and begins to take a toll on his mental state. Realising that he is likely to die in the ravine, Aron makes a desperate decision which offers him the only means of surviving. The outcome presents a scene which places a focus on self-inflicted strong gory injury. The BBFC's Guidelines at 15 state that 'Violence may be strong but should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury. The strongest gory images are unlikely to be acceptable'. The injury is not the result of violence as such, but is self-inflicted out of necessity and although there are moments of graphic detail in the scene, they are not dwelt upon for sensationalist reasons but to show the real-life extremes to which an individual had to go in order to survive. Those intending to see the film are advised that the scene carries the potential to cause distress and physical discomfort."
127 Hours was selected for National Schools Film Week in 2011.