127 Hours

SUBJECTS — English Language Arts



AGE: Age: 14+; MPAA Rating — Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images (for disturbing content and some language);

Drama; 2010, 94 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

Note to teachers: Students love adventure stories, especially tales about young people and most especially when the stories are true. Still, students are often reluctant to read what many times can be a long build-up to the action they crave. Aron Ralston’s book is ruminative and informative in its effort to explain how he managed to survive. Most young readers will want to skim the details about his outdoor adventures, the hikes, the climbs, and the description of terrain that is mostly unfamiliar and desolate. They will want to go quickly to the moment when Ralston falls and thus skip the reflection, fear and inspiration that finally leads him to cut off his arm and free himself mere hours from certain death.

In anticipation of such reluctant readers, this lesson plan uses valuable information that Ralston conveys in his book to inform a more thorough understanding of the film. Ralston’s self-examination and the philosophical journey he experiences during his 127 hours of entrapment deepen the message conveyed in the movie and may provoke some students to read the book itself.

If administrators or parents balk at screening the film at school, or if there is no available class time, take advantage of the fact that most kids will have seen the movie and that, for those who haven’t, Ralston’s story can be described in a few short sentences. Thus, the description of the chapters and the assignments in the Student Handout can be benefit to students who do not watch the film.

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TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes; and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.


Student Handout: 127 Hours


Adapted from Aron Ralston’s book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, this 127 Hours details the harrowing time Ralston spent trying to free himself after a shifting bolder pinned his arm against the wall of a remote slot canyon in the Utah desert. The film’s high energy beginning defines Ralston’s character and is in stark contrast to the isolation and silence that mark the young outdoorsman’s time trapped without hope of rescue. Flashbacks and clever use of video taping move the story forward and reveal important life-lessons.


Selected Awards: 2010 American Film Institute, Movie of the Year award; 2011 Academy Awards Nominations for: Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Franco), Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song, Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay,

Featured Actors: James Franco.

Director: Danny Boyle.


By addressing ideas presented in the book before showing the movie, students will be led to examine how an individual can call upon his past in order to maintain composure in the face of doom. Each reference to one of Ralston’s chapters described in the Student Handout introduces an idea that helps readers understand the young man who gathers the courage to cut off his arm and walk away from certain death. Suggested assignments are designed to encourage students to write freely in response to the information given and to empathize with the attributes of character that served Ralston so well. Then, as students watch the film, they will be able to see how ideas they have considered and written about are described visually.

Students will exercise their writing skills on a subject that interests them. They will consider and discuss the values that enabled Ralston to survive his ordeal.


Any fear associated with confinement can be exacerbated by watching this film. The scene in which Aron frees himself by breaking bones and cutting through flesh is graphic and medically accurate. It may be disturbing to some students.


Ask the question, “Where did Ralston get the strength to cut off his arm?” Parents may also want to re-emphasize the message that you need to let others know where you are going. This can be important to anyone, whether on a hiking adventure or simply out and about.



1. Review the film to make sure it is suitable for the class. Obtain appropriate administrative or parental approval.


2. Read the Student Handout and select chapter summaries and assignments suitable for the class. Modify or delete sections as appropriate. Students may not have had each of the experiences referred to in the prompts for the journal entries. One way to address this is to let them pick five or six to which they can respond. Print and copy the modified handout.


3. The lesson plan suggests that the teacher or a student who is a good reader or who is interested in drama read a quote from The Odyssey out loud to the class. If this task is assigned to a student, give the student advance warning and a copy of the passage so that he or she can practice.


Presentation of the Lesson

1. Ask if any student has seen the film and select one to introduce it to the class. When that student has finished, ask if anyone has something to add. If none of the students have seen the movie, then provide a short description of Ralston’s experience. An example is set out below:

This film is about a young man, an expert hiker, who went out alone to a remote area in the Utah desert. He didn’t tell anyone where he was going. As he walked down a slot canyon, which is a deep narrow rift in the earth with steep rock walls on either side, his path was blocked by a large boulder. When Ralston tried to climb over the boulder it shifted and pinned his arm against the wall of the canyon. Ralston couldn’t get out and he couldn’t get help. He spent five days trapped between the boulder and the canyon wall. For much of the time Ralston thought he would die. He had a movie camera with him and recorded his good-byes to family and friends. After five days, Ralston discovered a way to break the bones in his arm. In a last ditch effort to survive, he cut away his flesh until he had severed his arm from the rest of his body. Ralston then stumbled out of the canyon and fortunately encountered a family that was hiking on a nearby trail. When he saw the family, Ralston collapsed. Help was summoned and Ralston was air-lifted to a hospital.

2. Tell students that:

  • In the front of his book, before he starts to describe himself and his experiences, Ralston quotes three verses from Homer’s The Odyssey; this is the passage in which the enchantress Circe describes the dangers that Odysseus and his crew will face after they leave her island;
  • Through these verses Ralston describes the risk of adventure, preparing the reader for the idea that there are people who love adventure for the sake of adventure itself.


Then read, or have a student read, the passage out loud to the class.

3. Describe the journal assignment.


4. Distribute the student handout that you have reviewed and that you may have modified.


5. Have students read the handout and complete the assigned journal entries at the end of each chapter either as in-class work or as homework.


6. Show the film without interruption or chunked.


7. Use the discussion questions and/or some of the journal topics to stimulate class discussion.


8. Assign a summative essay at the end of the discussion.


9. Collect the journal entries and the essays.


1. Early in the film, Ralston leads two hikers, Megan and Kristi, into a sandstone tunnel where they slide 60 feet into a pool of blue water. In the book, this does not happen. Ralston tells the women about this stunning site, a place called the Golden Cathedral, but the three of them do not experience the free fall into the water together. The scene was added to the film in an effort to make the film more interesting to audiences and to reveal something about Ralston. Although he first objected to including the scene in the film, Ralston eventually relented. What do you think including this scene contributes to the description of Ralston’s character?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. It may be that the scene shows Ralston’s risky attitude and his friendly demeanor. He has a great deal of energy and is quite good at getting others to go along with his plans.



2. Throughout the book, Ralston gives accounts of how his friends and parents launch a major search party. By the time Ralston is cutting himself free, his truck and bike have been found and various rescue forces are on their way to the area. Without the rescue team in place, Ralston may not have been saved. A medevac helicopter was at the ready and medical personnel were available to help him. The good luck of meeting the family of hikers in the canyon may have saved his life as he would not, in all probability, have been able to hike to safety on his own. This information is not developed thoroughly in the film. Why do you think the screenwriter and the director decided to leave out the details about the rescue operation?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. The focus of narration was clearly on Ralston and his ability to keep himself pulled together and do whatever it took in order to survive. The story involves themes and thoughts that come from Ralston himself and it is more interesting and dramatic than the facts of his rescue and recovery.



3. The film is shot in a hyper-stylized, fast-paced manner sometimes using triple split screen and brilliant color. The energy communicated in these techniques seems to focus the viewer on Ralston’s personality. The contrast, then, when Ralston is trapped, trying to figure out what to do and videotaping his messages to friends and family, serves as a stark contrast. What is your opinion of the director’s technique? Explain your reasons with reference to specific scenes.

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. Be sure that each opinion is backed up with thoughtful references to specific scenes and to any ideas that the techniques used seem to illustrate.



1. What aspects of Ralston’s personality allowed him to survive his ordeal?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer to this question. Any well-supported response should be accepted.


2. What is the significance of the fact that Ralston probably would not have survived had the rescue effort not been mounted and the helicopter and trained medical personnel had not been available. What if he had not met the family that sent for help?

Suggested Response:

It often takes both personal commitment and help from the outside in order to survive.



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


See Social Emotional Learning Question #1.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


Assessment of Journal Entries:

The journals: Teachers can use personal methods of evaluating journal entries, looking for focus, depth, and clarity of thought. It is important that journal entries do not drift off topic and simply become an opportunity for ventilation of personal issues. Although journal entries are informal in nature, quality writing, in terms of grammar, punctuation, descriptive word choice and variety of sentence length and style remain important.


Summative Essays:

1. Write a critical analysis of 127 Hours focusing on three important ideas communicated both in the book and in the film. You may use your journal entries and the handout to help clarify the points you make in your essay.


2. Write a critical essay in which you examine three ideas that can be found in the book but have not been presented, either at all or adequately, in the film.


3. Write a persuasive essay in which you convince your reader of one of the two following propositions: (1) the film’s artistry helps to convey the ideas in the book or (2) the film weakens the value of the ideas presented.


4. Write an essay in which you analyze the character of Aron Ralston. Select three characteristics, such as determination, forbearance, optimism, flexibility, etc, and show how the nature of each characteristic is shown through either action or monologue.


5. Write an essay in which you evaluate the dominant ideas presented in the film in terms of their applicability to young people who will in all likelihood never face a situation similar to the one experienced by Ralston.


See also, Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

This is Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay with assistance from James Frieden.

This Guide was first published on August 7, 2012.

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