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Film / Alive

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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.


This film provides examples of:

  • Achilles in His Tent: At some point, Canessa leaves the group, but returns just as the group needs his leadership.
  • Arc Words: "My name is Federico Aranda, and I will return." Sadly, he doesn't, as he succumbs to his injuries late in the film.
  • Bad News in a Good Way: When they hear over the radio that the search has been called off.
    Nando: Good news - they called off the search.
    Carlitos: Why the hell is that good news?
    Nando: Because it means we're gonna get out of here on our own.
  • Berserk Button: When Antonio discovers that almost everyone else, under the impression that they are going to be rescued soon, consumed almost all of the rations, he goes on a screaming fit and nearly comes to blows with 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.
  • Chromosome Casting: Played straight after the death of Lilliana, Javier's wife. Still, it's pretty much sausage fest casting due to the fact that most of the passengers were rugby players, with the only other female characters being the doctor's wife and Mrs. Parrado (killed instantly during the crash), Mrs. Alfonsini (died on the first night), and Nando's sister Susana (died a few days after the crash).
  • 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.
  • Decoy Protagonist: After the older Carlitos narrates the film's intro and seemingly sets himself up as the protagonist, much of the film's focus moves toward Antonio, the captain of the team. However, as Nando wakes up and takes over from a dejected, fully out-of-it Antonio as the group's leader, ultimately convincing them that they need to eat the dead in order to survive, he firmly establishes himself as the actual protagonist.
  • 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.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Canessa. To say he's moody and more than occasionally grouchy is an understatement. (Also see: Achilles in His Tent)
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Antonio, after hearing that the search has been called off. From that point on, he retreats into a shell, hardly saying a word, even as Nando, now fully alert, takes charge and convinces the survivors that they have no choice but to eat the dead if they want to make it out. Several days later, he approaches Carlitos' group and tells them they can go ahead and eat his flesh if he dies, seemingly coming out of his funk and shedding his reputation as the stern, serious team captain. Not surprisingly, he's among the eight who get killed in the avalanche early the next morning.
    • Javier, the "cool older guy" supporting his favorite rugby team. After his wife is killed in the avalanche, he also becomes silent and brooding, refusing to eat, and not caring if he lives or dies. Although Nando tells him to snap out of it and start eating again so he can go home to his two daughters, his dark mood remains until he and the other survivors are rescued.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Fito refuses to pray the rosary on repeated occasions, each time explaining that he's agnostic. But after several people are killed in an avalanche on the 16th day, Fito's agnosticism is almost played for laughs when, upon hearing the sounds of another potential avalanche, he hurriedly starts praying the Hail Mary with the rest of the survivors. There is some Truth in Television to this, although it didn't play out quite like it was shown in the film. Rather than automatically praying when he hears the second avalanche, in reality the group demanded that he join them in prayer when they heard the second avalanche approaching. However, it is true that Fito - who had refused to join them in prayer during the first couple of weeks after the crash - converted to Christianity while in the mountains.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The survivors have to choose between resorting to cannibalism and dying from starvation. Obviously they choose the first option.
  • Karmic Death: A player named Alonzo isn't understanding the gravity of the situation during the first signs of major turbulence, as he stands up and impersonates a flight steward, asking everyone to "put on your parachutes, (as) we're jumping into the Andes Mountains." He is among the first to get killed, fumbling with his seat belts, then flying off the plane while still seated, after the plane's tail comes off.
  • Laughing Mad: The mechanic in this scene :
    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!!! [laughing mad]
  • 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.
  • The Load: Because of his tendency to complain about everything, Roy is this to Nando and Canessa when they take him along to find the tail, and especially later when they head back.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Most of the stranded players, but most notably Bobby, who has to be told by the steward to put his cigarette out as the plane experiences turbulence.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: During the first night on the mountains, Carlitos screams at Mrs. Alfonsini — who is in tremendous pain as her legs are trapped between the seats — to shut up, calling her a "stupid cow." The next morning, he is filled with remorse and breaks into tears when he finds out she had died.
  • 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. One of the most infamous elements of the movie and the true story itself.
    We should eat the dead.
  • One Steve Limit:
    • Subverted. There are two characters named Antonio – team captain Antonio Balbi, and the silent, hardworking Antonio "Tintin" Vizintin, who is always called by his nickname. Interestingly, Antonio Balbi, who died midway through the film, was based on the real-life team captain, whose name isn't Antonio, but Marcelo Perez.
    • Also subverted with Roberto Canessa, who is alternately called by his first and last name, and Roberto Francois, who is consistently referred to as Bobby.
  • Precision F-Strike: A minor character named Coche drops the film's only F-bomb, responding with a nonchalant "fuck you" after someone else tells him to play "Flight of the Bumblebee" on his one-stringed guitar.
  • 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Asked surprisingly often about Tintin, who is sent back by Nando and Roberto early into their journey, even though he is clearly seen among the survivors who are rescued at the end.