Discoveries from case studies – 127 hours

As a movie scene which accurately makes the audience members feel disgust, 127 Hours’ amputation scene is very effective.  It shows the main character Aron deciding after a long time to cut off his arm which has been stuck between a rock and a cliff.

The original case study is here.

The first sound that we hear which makes us disgusted is when Aron needs to snap the bone in his arm to cut through it.  At this point in the movie he has lost most of the feeling in his arm, as confirmed by the real life subject in an interview, he uses his body weight and torque to bend the centre of his forearm till the bones in it snap.  The sound we hear when he snaps the bone is that of a large branch snapping, like a tree log.  The sound we hear with the visuals we see doesn’t match in that regard.  Both what we see and hear though are snapping, just the sound is a lot more dramatic, this synchresis makes us feel that the arm snapping is a lot worse than it actually is.  Although it is completely horrific in the first place, the exaggerated snap makes it appear even worse.  So the reason that this is so effective is the exaggeration of the sounds makes the already hard to watch visuals even more difficult.

The next sounds which make us feel disgust is when Aron cuts the tendon in his forearm.  We hear a very loud high pitched ringing noise, which masks out the sounds of Aron’s screams.  This is done as an aural metaphor that the feeling of his pain masks out every other sense he has available to him.  The register of the pitch and tone we hear when Aron is cutting his tendon really rings in the front of your brain and makes you empathise with the pain that he is feeling, because it makes our ears uncomfortable.  While he is cutting we see frames of Aron completely still and braindead with blood on his hands and face.  This again shows that all he can think about is the pain he is feeling.  This shows that the discomfort and disgust that we feel as an audience participant by highlighting an overly exaggerated sound which makes us feel discomfort innately.  It is also effective when combined with visuals that we can match to the sounds.

In this scene there is also an underlying musical track of guitar and electronic drums, this increases in volume and intensity over the whole scene.  It builds and builds until the very end till Aron finally cuts the arm off and pulls away from the boulder, when it comes to a conclusion.  This is an effective way that shows the conclusion of the music matches the conclusion of Aron’s struggle away from the boulder, in a musical metaphor.  This does not affect our emotional response to the film, other than relief from Aron’s situation.

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