James Franco has been cast as Aron Ralston, the solo climber who had to amputate his lower right arm in 2003 to free himself from a canyon boulder that had trapped him for six days, in the Danny Boyle-directed biopic 127 Hours. Watching the 2009 New York Times video interview with Ralston below, where he talks about the struggle to understand the meaning of his survival, you can begin to see why Franco was cast. There’s a physical resemblance (Ralston had short hair then, a Pineapple Express-styled ‘do now), but also a shared searcher quality that makes them unpredictable. For Franco, that’s resulted in a movie star attending college and graduate school, doing a stint on General Hospital, and painting. For Ralston, it was hoping to become the first person to climb all of Colorado’s 14,000-ft. peaks solo during winter. “It was experience of risk for the sake of self-discovering,” he told the Times. “I had these insecurities of, really, if I was adequate enough, if I was good enough, if I was good at anything. And then, in order to feel something, I had to be in riskier environments.” He didn’t tell anyone where he was going when he embarked on his ill-fated 2003 hike in Utah, at the age of 27: “We always make choices of what we want in our lives. For some reason, I wanted that experience. What would I do if I were in a situation where my life was on the line? Oh, you really wanted to know? Well here, you’re gonna find out, Aron.”

Ralston documented his ordeal by taking photos with his digital camera, which should prove invaluable to Franco and Boyle. (He also wrote a book.) But just watching him describe, in great detail, the amputation in the clip after the jump, I had to his pause at 1:25. Just hearing him talk about breaking the bones in his arm, because he knew his pocketknife couldn’t cut through them, made me want to assume the fetal position and bury my head in the arm of the imaginary friend sitting next to me. By the time he got to the part about plucking the nerve (4:42), I needed another pause because I was getting queasy.

It’s a haunting, gripping, inspiring story that deserves to be told — and one I’ll see both for what Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later…) will bring to it and the performance he’ll get out of Franco — but I just don’t know how I’m going to make it through those moments. Do you?

Should Boyle show the arm, or keep the camera focused on Franco’s face? Imagining what’s happening below the surface can be more excruciating and chilling than seeing it (i.e. Open Water)…

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Photo credit: Sylvain Gaboury/PR Photos