Skinning out the film experience in 127 Hours (2010)

The effective power of films stems from their ability to create a sensual visceral experience. But ‘film experience’ has largely been theorized as the ocular-centric and acoustic experience. Is watching films only an ocular or acoustic experience or a complete sensory experience? Sobchack believes that “we see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily being” (2004, p63).

I watched 127 Hours (2010) and agree with Sobchack. The film, by Danny Boyle, is based on a real life story of canyoneer Aaron Ralston (played by James Franco) , who goes for hiking in the Blue John Canyon in Utah and gets his arm trapped under a boulder. In the thrilling self-amputated scene in which Ralston cuts through his skin, flesh and muscle, my arms tightened, my toes curled and I touched my arm for reassurance. The film “directly stimulate the material layers of the human being: his nerves, his senses, his entire physiological substance” (Hansen, 1993, p458). Cinema audiences have even fainted watching the film.

Film theorists have underlined the significance of keeping one’s distance from the object of analysis in order to remain objective. But despite one’s non-contact from the object and having complete awareness of the unreality of what one’s watching why does the film invoke a bodily response? Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Schlozman (Harvard Medical School) terms it as an important phenomenon called the mirror neuron response theory. He explains that brain contains specific neurons that become activated when they watch someone else go through a painful or frightening experience.

More than seeing or watching the film I felt like “touching a film with one’s eyes” (Marks, 2000, pxi). If cinema is considered an ‘attraction’, due to its ocular-centricity, one can suggest considering it also as cinema of ‘sense’ation.

By Sagar Chhatwani

Elsaesser, T. and Hagener, M. (2015). Film theory: An introduction through the senses. New York: Routledge.

Hansen, M. (1993). With Skin and Hair: Kracauer’s Theory of Film, Marseille 1940. Critical Inquiry, 19 (3), 437-469. Available from [Accessed 26 March 2017]

Marks, L. U. (2000). The skin of the film: Intercultural cinema, embodiment, and the senses. Durham: Duke University Press.

Sobchack, V. C. (2004). Carnal thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkley: University Of California Press.


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