Miracle in the Andes
Filmmakers have a strong attraction for survival stories. However, telling the story of the alleged “miracle in the Andes” poses unique difficulties for any motion picture project; the most recognizable parts of the narrative are those already ingrained in audiences due to the half-century time gap. Santiago, Chile, was the destination for the plane. After ten grueling weeks without a rescue operation beginning, only sixteen people survived the experience. Their survival was made possible by an incredible blend of resourcefulness, steadfast perseverance, and deep faith—and, most importantly, the terrifying decision to turn to eating the dead while confined to a snow-covered, mountainous area without food.
Alive failed to achieve the same level of authenticity as the Spanish-language film Society of the Snow, which was expertly directed by J.A. Bayona of The Orphanage fame and featured scenes shot against the backdrop of the formidable Andes and breathtaking views of Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains. In contrast, the latter is not as good. Despite achieving a commendable level of realism, Pablo Vierci’s adaptation struggles to convey the raw immediacy of witnessing actual survivors’ experiences. Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains effectively communicates this sense of urgency, imparting significant gravity to the narrative. The real survivors share their terrifying stories in a way that goes beyond fiction. For a seasoned action director like Bayona, depicting the chaotic aftermath of the crash is akin to weaving through a familiar action sequence. Like a crow dropping ominous pebbles in front of the characters, the film clutters the path with blatant foreshadowing, casting a looming shadow over the crash’s apparent predictability. The film’s narrator, Numa Turcatti, receives a foreboding prophecy from Pancho Delgado in the opening moments of Montevideo: “This could be our last trip together.” Remarkably, the film cleverly saves Numa’s demise for one of its more deft narrative devices.
Critics of Society of the Snow find its foreshadowing heavy-handed and unsubtle, smacking viewers over the head rather than building suspense. They contend that this alleged lack of nuance could lessen the tension, draw attention away from the main story, and possibly imply an underestimation of the audience’s intellectual capabilities. On the other hand, advocates of foreshadowing argue that it plays a vital function in creating suspense, aiding in the growth of thematic complexity, and promoting an inevitable narrative trajectory. Imagine a film where seemingly insignificant details, like scattered seeds, quietly bloom into profound themes later in the story. That’s the subtle power of well-crafted foreshadowing, adding layers of meaning for attentive viewers. The film’s constant foreshadowing shapes our understanding of the protagonists’ detached emotions and profound loneliness. Foreshadowing is a literary method that helps draw viewers in by offering subtle hints about future developments or outcomes. By delving into these complexities, the audience gains a deeper insight into the characters’ struggles and internal conflicts.
Proponents of foreshadowing say that it helps to create an unstoppable atmosphere in the film. Cast against the dramatic canvas of history and a harsh environment, the protagonists’ valiant fight against impossible odds takes on even greater meaning. Imagine a storm cloud gathering on the horizon of the narrative, casting a shadow of impending doom. This sense of inevitability (they argue) amplifies the story’s emotional resonance like a crescendo in a symphony while illuminating the characters’ unwavering spirit simultaneously, like a lone lighthouse braving the tempestuous waves. This film depicts the plane tragedy with a vivid and terrifying intensity. A monstrous maw gapes in the plane’s side, spewing forth a blizzard of snow, splintered debris, and wind that howls like a banshee. The audience is flung into the heart of the chaos, feeling the icy needles sting their faces, the roar of the wind deafening their ears, and the debris whips past like malevolent missiles. The once neat rows of seats experience a startling metamorphosis, collapsing like accordions in a ghoulish ballet and cruelly impaling a few people. The ominous buzz of rattling metal dominates the music, which deftly combines a variety of noises to heighten the sensation of turmoil and approaching disaster.
From a theatrical standpoint, navigating the long aftermath of the plane disaster turns out to be a more complex problem. As Roger Ebert so incisively pointed out more than thirty years ago when he reviewed Alive, there is a natural challenge in conveying the scope of the survivors’ experience on screen. Modern films excel at bringing stories to life through stunning visuals and immersive sound, but as Roger Ebert observed, they often stumble when it comes to representing the tangible realities of prolonged hunger, bone-chilling cold, and the monumental willpower that unfolds when days bleed into weeks. Although adept at expressing some facets of the human condition, the medium struggles to depict in a nuanced manner the severe physical and psychological damage inflicted by time’s unrelenting passing within the framework of the survivors’ harrowing journey. Society of the Snow has its detractors, who argue that it doesn’t do enough to portray the psychological fallout from the Andes plane accident and the cannibalism that followed. Critics contend that the film, in its relentless focus on the characters’ physical fight for survival, leaves their inner turmoil shrouded in the blizzard. The relentless brutality of the story bludgeons viewers’ senses without ever truly piercing their hearts. We see the characters suffer, but we never truly feel their pain, leaving their psychological landscapes shrouded in frustrating vagueness. In addition, the argument posits that the film’s limited window into the protagonists’ psyche and its handling of moral ambiguity serve to minimize the moral complexity of the choice to engage in cannibalism.
When examining how the film handles the individuals’ inner conflicts, some contend that a more complex examination of the psychological effects of the Andes plane accident and the moral conundrums surrounding cannibalism is necessary. By wincing away from the character’s intricate mental landscape and the nuanced dilemmas they face, the film squanders a golden opportunity to deliver a richer, more realistic story. While some criticize the film’s surface-level portrayal, its champions point to subtle clues woven into the plot, whispering of the unseen psychological scars etched onto the protagonists’ souls. While seemingly preoccupied with the characters’ gritty quest for survival, the film subtly navigates the murky waters of trauma and guilt, inviting a deeper understanding of their internal battlegrounds. Defenders of the film see its strength in tackling the psychological fallout of unimaginable hardship. By mining the depths of its thematic threads, the film paints a vivid picture of the inner chaos inflicted by the characters’ horrific experiences.
Suggestion and Response
On the other hand, pro-film critics claim that the characters’ decisions and actions evoke powerful emotional reactions. They argued that the power of suggestion and the character’s emotional responses offer a compelling and evocative portrayal of the psychological impact of the Andes plane crash and the subsequent moral challenges they face, even though the film may not directly delve into the characters’ inner thoughts. The film portrays the survivors’ agonizing choice, struggling to balance the shock of graphic detail with the need for emotional sensitivity. In this sense, Society of the Snow exercises restraint, choosing a degree of subtlety even in the face of explicit images, such as a rib cage that is plucked clean. Across retellings, the depiction of the survivors’ cannibalistic choice has deliberately steered clear of impulsive or flippant portrayals.
When developing Society of the Snow, the film should refrain from sensationalizing the terrible act of cannibalism and instead take a more nuanced approach that gives ethical considerations top priority, upholds the victims’ dignity, and emphasizes the human drama that is inherent in such horrific circumstances. The film should take extra care to avoid including gratuitous graphic details, as this could unintentionally take away from the significant and thought-provoking nature of the subject matter. To avoid sensationalizing or oversimplifying the characters’ difficult moral decisions, it is crucial to carefully contextualize the choice to turn to cannibalism in the film. The film can go beyond a simple examination of the survivors’ physical survival and reveal the long-lasting psychological effects of their deeds by exploring their inner conflicts. The purposeful omission of gruesome details allows audiences to sympathize with the protagonists’ situation without being drawn in by overly dramatic portrayals that could overwhelm the film’s deeper themes.
The storyline at the heart of Society of the Snow is naturally compelling, weaving a tale that draws readers in. Certain moments in the film prove irresistible, notably, the poignant scene where Agustín Pardella’s Nando Parrado and Roberto, after days of strenuous efforts to reach civilization, profoundly experience the impact of encountering another individual. That standout moment in the story proves how skillfully the film sparks strong emotions in viewers. While the film’s unique character thrives in a traditional theater setting, Netflix viewing habits pose its full appreciation. As viewers nestled in the plush comfort of their homes, Netflix streaming the story of the protagonists’ grueling fight for survival, the film’s jarring juxtaposition underscored the irony of their contrasting realities. While seen through this lens, the film morphs into a twisted mirror, reflecting the jarring dissonance between the brutal drama on screen and the viewer’s cozy haven. This paradoxical tension elevates the experience, prompting reflection on the film’s narrative versus the reality of comfortable couch-watching.
- Bradshaw, P. (2023). Society of the Snow review – cannibalism in the ice in incredible real-life survival tale. The Guardian.
- Hutchinson, C. (2024). ‘Society of the Snow’ Review: A Gripping Take on a Devastating True Story. Collider.
- O’Malley, S. (2024). Society of the Snow. Roger Ebert.