Film / Alive

Alive is a 1993 drama film, starring (among others) Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Hamilton, Bruce Ramsay, John Newton, Josh Lucas and John Malkovich. This was the second film directed by Frank Marshall, previously known for Arachnophobia (1990).

The film is an adaptation of a non-fiction book: Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (1974) by Piers Paul Read. It describes in detail the events of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 and the story of its survivors. In summary, the plane contained 5 crew members and 40 passengers. The passengers were the members of the "Old Christians Club", a rugby team, along with various family members and associates. The flight took off from their native Montevideo, Uruguay for Santiago, Chile. But on October 13 (a Friday), 1972 the airplane crashed on a then-unnamed peak of the Andes (later called Glacier of Tears). 12 people died in the crash, including the pilots. The other 33 were left stranded in an uninhabited area at the borders of Chile and Argentina.

The survivors had to survive on their own while waiting for help. Several suffering from injuries, all suffering from a complete lack of medical supplies and their meager food supplies. Over the following months several would die from injuries, disease or avalanches. Those surviving eventually resorted to cannibalism, eating the bodies of their dead comrades. They attempted a number of expeditions but failed to contact anyone, prior to returning to the remains of the plane. On December 20, two of them (Roberto Canessa and Fernando Parrado) managed to establish contact with a Chilean huaso (local equivalent of the gaucho and cowboy). He brought them help. By December 23, the final 16 survivors were rescued and brought to civilization. They had survived 72 days in the wild.

The film closely follows the events of the book, though it notably changes the focus. Piers Read paid close attention to the harshness of the living condition and the sociological aspects of organizing a group in the wild, while giving a calm and detached view of the extreme measures they had to take to survive, cannibalism included. Marshall was more interested in the Heroic Spirit of the people trying to survive. Cannibalism is portrayed but its brutal details are largely left out. The film has been praised for the way the "barren hopeless wasteland" of the Andes was portrayed, strong performances by the leads, and some genuine human drama, but often criticized for glossing over the worst effects of starvation, dehydration, etc.

This film provides examples of:

  • Achilles in His Tent: At some point, Canessa.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The survivors were rescued at the end, but 29 of them died throughout the film, only 16 survived.
  • Bring Help Back: Realizing that rescue searches were over, two team members walk over the Andes mountains into Chile to summon help.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Once the tail is discovered with the battery intact, Roy is chosen to connect the radio to it because he helped his cousins set up a stereo a while back and is thus the closest thing to an electrician the survivors have. It turns out hooking up a radio to a battery is a lot more complicated than that, and he's unable to do it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Carlitos.
    Carlitos Paez: I'll pay for a pizza if you go get it.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Many survivors seem close to it but are just momentarily freaked out. Only the mechanic has really crossed it. See Laughing Mad.
  • Fight to Survive: It's pretty difficult to live on the top of the Andes without food.
  • Foil: Highlighted at first between Canessa and Antonio, then Canessa and Nando.
  • From Bad to Worse: As if freezing to death and being forced to eat their dead friends was bad enough, two weeks in an avalanche occurs, killing 8 more of the survivors.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The survivors have to choose between resorting to cannibalism and dying from starvation. Obviously they choose the first option.
  • Laughing Mad: The mechanic in his hilarious One-Scene Wonder :
    Antonio: Can it [the radio] be made to work ?
    The Mechanic: God, not without batteries ! [already grinning]
    Roy: Well, are there batteries or not ?!?
    The Mechanic: The batteries are in the tail, and ... the tail's gone! HAHAHAHA!!!
  • Let's Have Another Baby: Lilliana Methol (Ileana Douglas) tells her husband she wants to have another baby. That night an avalanche crashes in over the fuselage, killing several people, among others Lilliana. An example of Death by Sex by proxy.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: In the bitter cold at altitude, with no vegetation or animals, the survivors eventually resort to eating the remains of the deceased.
  • Rule of Drama: The survivors are surprised by their rescue helicopter. In real life, they found out Parrado and Canessa had made it through the radio, and they even changed their clothes and combed their hair.
  • Running Gag: Carlitos' never-ending obsession with getting pizza.
  • Robinsonade: Survivors of tragic accidents trying to survive. Stranded in an uncharted location. Everything here except that the story takes place away from the sea.