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reel life: “127 hours,” wilderness movies and luxury hotels

I love wilderness movies.

If you know me at all, this will come as a shock to you since I’m a five-star hotel girl all the way and a where-are-we-eating-tonight New Yorker at heart despite living in San Diego for the past 12 years. I do not like hiking – the last real hike my family agreed to go on was in Lake Louise because there was a tea house at the top – and my feelings toward camping are right in sync with Oprah, who felt she was roughing it quite enough, thank you,  in her Coleman trailer.

Yet I’m a complete sucker for movies where people take off on their own and head into the great outdoors: movies like The Mosquito Coast, Into the Wild and Gorillas in the Mist.

So, after watching the harrowing 127 Hours – which, of course, I was enthralled with even though I had to close my eyes for a significant part of it — I tried to figure out what it is about these outdoor adventures that strikes such a deep chord within me.

* The fact that we’re talking about stars like Harrison Ford, Emile Hirsch and James Franco (who, by the way, should be nominated for an Oscar for his performance) sure doesn’t hurt. Smart men who shun society to find themselves in nature may not make the best husbands but their rugged good looks make them very appealing as sleeping bag partners. Plus, they know how to use tools creatively, read maps — not to mention the position of the sun — and build fires which they actually cook over.

* In an age in which cell phones and laptops make it virtually impossible to get away from the world, there is something so luxurious about the idea of being absolutely unreachable. Of being able to actually be alone with your thoughts and escape the mind-numbing everyday routines of doing laundry, driving carpool and paying bills. The goal in life is to always be present in each moment, and you simply can’t multi-task or worry about anything else while climbing a mountain or crossing a canyon. The “power of now” is never more apparent than when you have to focus on each step you’re taking so you don’t fall off a cliff or trip over a boulder.

* There is nothing more awe-inspiring than nature, and the scenery in these movies is breathtaking. From the lush jungles of Central America and Africa to the snow-covered Alaskan terrain and the humbling rockscape of Utah, the settings play as an important role as the stars themselves. There is a big, beautiful world out there and the movies remind us it deserves – and commands — our respect.

What may be the most important common denominator of the wilderness movies, though, is that they tend to end badly. In the first three, the main characters all die. In 127 Hours – which is based on the amazing true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston – James Franco’s character cuts off his arm in order to survive. This just reinforces my reasons for not hiking or camping, despite my occasional yearning to get away from it all. What if I get stuck all alone somewhere? What if I run out of water and have to drink my own urine like James does? And, although I’d like to believe I would rise to the challenge, I honestly don’t think for a second I could amputate my own arm.

Ultimately, what I guess I love most about wilderness movies is what I love most about movies: that they let you experience things you would never do in real life, and live vicariously through people who are very different from you. The wilderness movies — like the characters they spotlight — do that to the extreme.

So, although I admire James Franco as he determinedly chooses life on his dangerous, solitary journey, I do so comfortably curled up in my cushy theater seat, with one hand in a box of popcorn and the other safely wrapped in the hand of the man I want to accompany me on all my journeys.


  1. I love wilderness movies, wilderness books, obscure places, etc, but I also love to be within a mile of my favorite coffee shop. Movies allow me to toy with my wilderness dream without risking everything 🙂

  2. A visit to the zoo – or a movie like 127 Hours – is about as close as I’ll get to the great outdoors! I’m glad others feel the same way. Your review of 127 Hours does make me want to see the movie.

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