April 23, 2014

Are the “127 Hours” faintings a publicity stunt?

By Sean O’Connell

HollywoodNews.com: Saturday night, at the closing screening of the 13th Annual Savannah Film Festival, programmers had to press the pause button on Danny Boyle’s breathtaking test of endurance, “127 Hours,” because an audience member passed out.

“You have to turn the lights on,” a woman screamed.

“We need a doctor,” another man yelled.

The house lights went up. The movie stopped. And those in attendance (myself, included) who were on the edge of our seats were given a few minutes to calm down before the film continued.

This isn’t out of the ordinary. In fact, it has become the norm. This article contains a fair share of spoilers, so if you know nothing about Boyle’s challenging masterpiece, you might want to move on.

“127 Hours” recounts the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who spends the titular time pinned beneath a boulder when a Utah hike goes south. During a particularly inspirational scene, Ralston (portrayed expertly by James Franco) realizes he has too much to live for and has no intention of dying alone, underneath that rock. So he grabs the dull knife from his equipment kit and amputates his arm.

That’s usually the point when audience members begin hitting the floor.

The first reported faintings occurred at the Telluride Film Festival in September. Those medical emergencies were attributed to the high altitude of the festival’s screening room. But that didn’t explain why audience members continued to drop like flies in Toronto, at the Mill Valley Film Festival, at the film’s Los Angeles premiere, and – most recently – last night in Savannah.

The thought crossed my mind after the L.A. incident, and really lingered following last night’s disruption. Are these faintings publicity stunts conceived by Fox Searchlight to drum up headlines? Are the faintees studio plants hired to hit the floor at inopportune times to generate press?

That sounds extreme, I know. But you have to wonder why these medical emergencies are only happening at high-publicity events like film festival screenings or premiere. Boyle’s film opened in select cities on Friday. Where are the headlines declaring audience members passing out at AMC multiplexes outside of New York or Los Angeles? How come Joe and Jane Public can handle Franco’s self-surgery, but patrons who attend a festival or premiere screening knowing full well what they are in store for can’t hack it (pun intended).

If this is a calculated publicity stunt (and that’s a bif “if”), then Fox Searchlight is doing Boyle’s film more harm than good. Those who have seen “127 Hours” know that Franco’s slice and dice occurs near the very end of the film. And Ralston’s amputation begins a wave of emotional momentum that carries Boyle’s film to its impossibky uplifting conclusion. Using last night as an example, Boyle’s momentum was completely snuffed once the film had to be paused to tend to the ailing audience member, and “127 Hours” lost its punch. As the frustrated woman in front of me proclaimed, “The worst was over. We were through the woods! Why pass out now?”

That’s a question only the faint-hearted audience members who bail on “Hours” can answer. Unless Searchlight would like to speak up, and let us in on their publicity stunt.

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Image courtesy of Sean O’Connell

About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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4 Comments

  • November 7, 2010 | Permalink |

    One women didn’t just faint during the amputation scene, but had a seizure. It was so bad, that they had to stop the movie and dial 911. The paramedics and fire department showed up to take her away. This was during a matinee for the general public, not during any sort of premiere or special screening. No one was there but us normal folk.

    This women fell out of her chair and loudly hit the floor and had a serious medical emergency, this was absolutely not a joke. I suppose there is a possibility that there could have been publicity stunts in more critical screenings, but I doubt it because the subject matter and grittiness of that scene is simply shocking enough.

  • November 7, 2010 | Permalink |

    I was at a PGA screening where 2 people fainted. It wasn’t a high end PR screening – no press whatsoever. At the Q&A Danny Boyle mentioned they’d just come fr a SAG screening where all was well. I understand the LA premiere was due to an unrelated medical emergency… I believe fainting at the early screenings may just be people who aren’t aware what’s going to happen in the movie(!) For folks who haven’t seen – it’s quick, just about 3 min of screen time – just shut your eyes (and ears). Movie’s profound and powerful. Amazing filmmaking – not to be missed.

  • November 7, 2010 | Permalink |

    For the record, I totally agree. The movie is amazing. One of the year’s best. But this rash of faintings is getting out of hand. I mean, the scene is rough … but it’s not THAT bad!

  • November 7, 2010 | Permalink |

    I am one of the programmers at the Savannah Film Festival and have worked with Fox Searchlight for years and can safely say that it was not a publicity stunt. Although why people keep fainting, I couldn’t say. Three words: “close your eyes”

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