Follow TV Tropes


Film / Alive

Go To

Alive is a 1993 drama film, starring 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 the non-fiction book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (1974) by Piers Paul Read, whose events were previously adapted (from a different source) as the more sensationalist 1976 film Survive!. It describes the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 and the story of its survivors. In summary, the plane contained 5 crew members and 40 passengers, mostly players for the rugby team "Old Christians Club", their family members and associates. In October 1972, the flight took off from their native Montevideo, Uruguay for a match in Santiago, Chile but crashed on a glacier in the high Andes a few minutes before their goal. 12 people died in the crash, including the pilots. The other 33 were left stranded in an unknown area of perpetual snow and no vegetation, without supplies or survival training.

Over the following months several would die from injuries, disease or avalanches. With no help coming, the survivors used the plane's wreck for shelter, scavenged seats and luggage for materials, and ultimately resorted to cannibalism, eating the bodies of their dead comrades. On December, two survivors, Roberto Canessa and Fernando "Nando" Parrado, made a last ditch effort to reach Chile on foot, and the final 16 were rescued and brought to civilization. They had survived for 72 days, long after search parties had given up any hope of finding them alive.

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 2023 film Society of the Snow is based on the same events. Not to be confused with #Alive (2020), where the dead are the ones eating the living.

This film provides examples of:

  • Achilles in His Tent: On the final walkout, Canessa briefly leaves the expedition (at that point made of three people) over a disagreement with Nando about which way to go, but is convinced by Vizintin to come back.
  • Actionized Adaptation: Two action scenes are added: the first expedition out of the plane that almost falls into a crevice hidden by snow (though likely inspired by Carlos Valeta's fate under different circumstances), and the final expedition almost falling off a cliff.
  • Adapted Out:
    • The movie does not include Sergio Catalán, the Chilean arriero that Nando and Canessa came across on the walk out, leaving ambiguous how they made it to civilization.
    • Seven people were sucked out of the plane after the tail broke, whereas in the film they are just four (two crew and two passengers). This is noticeable in the scene before the crash, despite the number of passengers being accurately reflected in the introductory text and at the end of the movie. The most notable omission is Carlos Valeta, who survived the fall and was seen walking in the snow by the people in the plane before he disappeared (it is presumed he fell in a ditch under the snow).
    • Six people die in the avalanche rather than the eight of reality. The latter included Diego Storm, whose fictional counterpart Hugo Diaz survives to the end. The other person missing altogether is Juan Carlos Menéndez, who is left out or discussed very little in accounts of the disaster because of his family's wishes.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the book, Bobby is described as being slightly overweight, with his friends nicknaming him “Fat François”. Not really the case of his in-film version, played by Jack Noseworthy.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Most people who died have a different name in the film, to the point that you may consider it a spoiler if you look up the disaster before watching. One particular instance is the change of Rafael Echavarren to "Federico Aranda", which makes his Survival Mantra not a rhythm as in the original (though this would likely have been Lost in Translation anyway due to the choice to film in English).
  • Artistic License – History: Besides other changes, Nando didn't give one of the baby shoes to one survivor in particular, but to the whole group by tying it to the fuselage.
  • Are We There Yet?: Said by Roy on the way to the plane's tail.
  • 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.
  • Based on a True Story: Said so at the top of the poster, and under the title in the opening credits.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: None of the survivors become as emaciated in the film as they were in real life, but Nando in particular doesn't even grow his beard like the others, only Ethan Hawke's characteristic goatee.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The survivors were rescued at the end, but 29 die throughout the film, only 16 survive.
  • Break the Haughty: Antonio is introduced as arrogant and controlling, but slips into depression after the plane search is called off and finally joins the group as an equal when he sheds his opposition to eat the dead.
  • Bring Help Back: Realizing that rescue searches are over, Nando, Canessa, and Vizintin set out to walk over the Andes mountains into Chile to summon help.
  • Book Ends: The movie is framed as Carlitos retelling the story twenty years later, but his modern day self only appears and is heard at the beginning and the end.
  • The Cameo: An uncredited one by John Malkovich as the older Carlitos.
  • The Captain: Antonio is the already stern captain of the rugby team and slips naturally into leading the group after the plane crash.
  • The Capital of Brazil Is Buenos Aires: Parodies tend to refer to the plane as broadly South American or Brazilian rather than Uruguayan. The film itself just says that the plane is South American, despite the big "Uruguayan Air Force" banner on the side of the plane.
  • Chromosome Casting: Truth in Television after the death of Lilliana, Javier's wife. Most passengers are players of a male rugby team, with the only other females aboard being the team physician'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).
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Immediately after the plane crash, Bobby sits in a suitcase, contemplating the mountains, all while smoking a cigarette and even offering Carlitos one, to which he agrees.
  • 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 once 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.
    • Canessa becomes the designated doctor of the group despite being just a first year medicine student.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: The plane mechanic and only crew survivor goes mad after the crash, Laughing Mad and becoming a Talkative Loon.
  • Composite Character:
    • Javier and Lilliana are said to have two daughters, and a photo of two young girls is later found in a suitcase. In real life they had four children already.
    • Hugo Diaz stands in for Diego Storm, but unlike Storm he is not killed in the avalanche and becomes one of the 16 people rescued at the end.
  • Compressed Adaptation: There were several tests before deciding who would go out to ask for help, that the movie omits, implying this was only discussed by Nando and Canessa. The final expedition, likewise, is shortened and cuts straight from the pair reaching the vegetation line to the rescue helicopters reaching the plane wreck.
  • Cool Old Guy: Javier Methol. Introduced having a laugh with the lads on the plane despite the age difference, he ends becoming the oldest of the survivors to be rescued.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Carlitos.
    Carlitos Paez: I'll pay for a pizza if you go get it.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The movie opens with an older Carlitos recounting his experience twenty years later, but the story is followed largely though Canessa and later Nando's eyes.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • In real life, the ones tasked with cutting up the bodies and distributing the meat, and who took leadership after the avalanche killed Marcelo Pérez, "Antonio" in the film weren’t Nando or Roberto, but the Strauch cousins (Fito, Eduardo, and Daniel). The movie still keeps some of their leadership and teamwork accurate, such as Fito inventing the “water-making machine” as they called it.
    • Numa Turcatti, identified by the survivors as one of the most valuable members of the group, is replaced by the minor character Rafael Cano.
  • Determinator:
    • Nando. Once he wakes from his coma, he decides that he will climb his way across the mountains towards civilization, even if he dies trying.
    Roberto Canessa: We are gonna die, you know?
    Nando Parrado: Maybe, but if we die, we’ll die walking.
    • Federico Aranda, who even though greatly weakened by his injured legs and spends most time resting in the hammocks, never loses hope, and every time he has the opportunity he declares the optimistic sentence: “My name is Federico Aranda, and I will return.” Sadly, he later succumbs to his injuries and dies shortly before the expeditionaries return from the tail.
  • 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.
  • Didn't Think This Through: A couple of days after hearing the news that they cancelled the search, a group of expeditionaries sets off to find the tail of the plane, without the necessary equipment, the result? They survive the night, but almost freeze to death, barely being able to speak without stammering.
  • Disaster Scavengers: Among other things, the survivors use the plane's seat covers to make blankets, a guitar and bills as fuel for the fire, fuselage plates as sleds and funnels for water, hook the plane's antenna to a small radio to get radio signals from afar, and make their own sunglasses to prevent snow blindness. Not to mention all the clothes and meat they take from the bodies.
  • Dramatic Irony: Antonio's Establishing Character Moment shows him criticizing a player who overslept and missed the plane. That anonymous guy turns out to be Unluckily Lucky when the plane crashes in the mountains.
  • Dwindling Party: Several members of passage die when the plane's tail breaks, then when the plane crashes, an avalanche buries the wreck, and finally due to starvation and lack of medical care while waiting for the thaw.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The survivors and particularly Nando, who has to come back from a coma and losing his mother and sister in the accident, as almost everything that can go wrong goes wrong for them before they are rescued.
  • Fight to Survive: It's pretty difficult to live on top of the Andes without food.
  • From Bad to Worse: As if freezing to death and being forced to eat dead friends is not bad enough, two weeks in an avalanche occurs, killing 8 more survivors.
  • Gilligan Cut: Poor Roy can’t catch a break. When he tries to explain that he doesn’t know anything about radios and that he doesn’t want to go and hook up the tail’s batteries, what happens in the next scene? He’s going to hook up the tail’s batteries.
  • The Hero: Nando is built as the central hero of the story, from falling in a coma to losing his family, taking over from Antonio, leading the expeditions to the tail of the plane and ultimately saving the group by going to look for help.
  • 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 survive. Several days later, he approaches Carlitos' group and tells them that they can go ahead and eat his flesh if he dies, seemingly shedding his reputation as the stern, serious team captain. Not surprisingly, he's among the eight killed in the avalanche early the next morning.
    • Javier. 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.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Canessa claims to have been the one who raided the supplies in the night in order to protect the rest of the group from Antonio's wrath, but they go I Am Spartacus to protect him in turn.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Nando steps up to carry the group on his shoulders (metaphorically and literally, in the case of Roy after he couldn't continue walking back from the tail) after falling into a coma and being left for dead in the original crash.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Some actions given to Nando and Canessa were actually done by other people. It is hard to justify this, since these characters were still cast and the movie would not run out of heroics that were actually done by Nando and Canessa.
    • Nando says that the search has been called off and calls it Bad News in a Good Way because now it’s up to them to get out of the mountains. In real life, Nando thought about telling the group, but he could not bring himself to do it before Gustavo Nicolich (Victor Bolarich in the film) did it by saying the aforementioned line. He is also the one to propose eating the dead in the movie, while in real life this was discussed by different groups of survivors, one including Nando, before all got together to discuss it. Finally, Nando is the one to dig out of the plane after it is buried by snow, which was actually the work of Numa Turcatti.
    • Canessa is the only "medic" of the group in the film; in reality, Nicolich and Zerbino were also medicine students. He is also the first to cut the meat from the bodies and distribute it, which was actually done by the Strauch cousins.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Antonio is portrayed as a budding tyrant whose claim to leadership on the basis of being the team's captain before the crash is consented by the other survivors, but resented behind his back. He goes on a screaming fit when he learns that the survivors disobeyed his rationing and almost comes to blows with Canessa for believing him responsible. To make matters worse, he berates Canessa for daring to threaten his life by depleting the supplies, implying that his concern is egotistical rather than for the whole group's sake, despite claiming otherwise. The real team captain, Marcelo Pérez, was beloved and his leadership and organizing skills were welcomed by all in the early days after the crash.
    • The plane's mechanic goes Laughing Mad after the crash and tells the survivors all hope is lost; afterward he remains useless, even laying on the snow outside of the plane at one point. The real mechanic, Carlos Roque, likely suffered a concussion on the crash and was incoherent early on, yelling passengers to give him their passports. But he was helpful afterwards and overcame his early isolation from the group to tell them about his wife and newborn child back home, which would have redeemed the character in the film.
  • 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. In real life, rather than automatically praying when he heard the second avalanche, 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.
  • Hope Bringer: Antonio (until his spirit is broken when the search is called off), Federico (who tries to keep spirits up and believe in their salvation despite having his legs broken in the crash), and Nando (who convinces the group to try several strategies to save themselves and never gives up until he achieves it).
  • Hope Spot: Several. The survivors spot a plane flying over them which makes them believe they are going to be rescued soon, but the occupiers don't see them. Later they find the plane's batteries at the tail are still intact, but their designated radio expert can't connect the plane's radio to them and make them work. Later on, Canessa, Nando, and Vizintin keep climbing what they think it's the glacier's peak only to find the mountain is even taller, and once they make it to the top they only see more mountains as far as the eye can see. Only Nando's realization that two peaks in the distance don't have snow cover and must thus be lower in altitude turns out to lead to their rescue.
  • I Am Spartacus: Canessa falsely confesses to have eaten the rations in order to spare the group from Antonio's wrath, but they repair him by claiming they all stole rations, not just Canessa (which was true).
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: One of the pilots survives the crash but is trapped in the cabin and exposed to the chilling wind. He asks the passengers to give him his gun so he can commit suicide, but they refuse.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The survivors have to choose between resorting to cannibalism and dying from starvation. They ultimately go with the first option.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Bobby finds a wine bottle after the crash and drinks from it as much as he smokes. Antonio tries to ration the wine with the food, but his efforts are wasted when the others freely take more rations after wrongly believing that they will be rescued soon.
  • Ironic Death: A twofold for Alonso, who doesn't understand the gravity of the situation during the first signs of major turbulence, as he stands up and impersonates a flight attendant asking everyone to "put on your parachutes, we're jumping into the Andes Mountains." He is among the first killed, fumbling with his seat belts, then flying off the plane while still seated, after the plane's tail comes off.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Antonio is right to ration the food and his reasoning that they can't just assume they will be rescued soon is perfectly sound. He is also right to be furious when he thinks a single person has ruined it for all out of gluttony. It's only his yelling about how this threatens his life rather than the life of everyone that makes him come across as self-centered. Furthermore, he contributes to the group's survival as much as he can.
  • 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 tells her husband she wants to have another baby. That night an avalanche crashes in over the fuselage, killing several people including her.
  • Lighter and Softer: For a movie that is remembered for starting with a horrific plane crash and showing the dwindling survivors resorting to cannibalism, there is a surprising number of funny moments and funny guys including Bobby, Carlitos, the mechanic, and Roy the designated radio guy. The survivors also seem mostly fine after they resort to cannibalism, while in real life they suffered from massive weight loss and starvation-related diseases like scurvy. And there is just some blood from the crash inside the plane while in real life it was littered with human remains by the end (as the flesh was rationed, but anyone was free to bite on the bones) and other human waste (as the survivors couldn't move far from the wreck to relieve themselves when there were snowstorms or were buried under an avalanche).
  • Literal Cliffhanger: One of the expeditionaries almost falls off a cliff during the final climb, but is rescued by his companions.
  • 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.
    • Vizintin falls behind Nando and Canessa on the final climb up. When they make it to the top and find that the mountain area is much larger than they believed, they decide to send Vizintin back to the plane and split his rations between Nando and Canessa, even though Canessa just threatened to desert the expedition.
  • MacGyvering: The survivors hook a small radio to the plane's antenna to get information from the outside, use their suitcases and any extra clothes to build a barrier against the wind, and make water funnels, sleds, digging tools, and light signs with parts of the fuselage. They also use sunglasses to protect themselves from snow blindness, some of them made by themselves using other materials. Finally, they use a sharp glass to cut the meat.
  • The Medic: Canessa rises to the challenge of being the work's resident doctor right after the crash happens, despite being just a first year medical student.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Most stranded players, but most notably Bobby, who has to be told by the steward to put his cigarette out as the plane experiences turbulence (and lights another as soon as the steward isn't looking).
  • 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" and threatening to bash her face in. The next morning, he is filled with remorse and breaks into tears when he finds out she had died.
  • Never Live It Down: In-universe, Roy is treated as the resident radio expert because nobody else has touched a radio in their lives, and they force him to hike to the plane's tail in an attempt to connect the plane's radio to the batteries there. The reason? Roy just helped his cousins with a radio stereo once.
  • No Name Given: Besides the characters that die early or never get a scene for themselves, the airplane mechanic is never named as he's depicted as a stranger unwilling to engage in conversation. In real life he was named Carlos Roque.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Nando refuses to leave Roy behind when he can't keep the march from the tail and ends carrying him on his arms.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: In the bitter cold 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.
  • One-Steve Limit: There are two characters named Antonio, team captain Antonio Balbi, and the silent, hardworking Antonio Vizintin, but he is always called by his nickname "Tintin". Ironically the real-life team captain was named Marcelo Pérez. Roberto Canessa is alternately called by his first and last name, while Roberto François is consistently referred to as Bobby.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Nando when returns triumphally to the plane while carrying the exhausted Roy on his arms, after refusing to leave him behind while walking from the tail during a snowstorm.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: The characters that are mostly there for the laughs are Bobby and his Cigarette of Anxiety, Carlitos and his pizza obsession, the crazy mechanic, and Roy the designated radio guy who doesn't actually know much about radios.
  • Precision F-Strike: Coche drops the film's only F-bomb, responding with a nonchalant "fuck you" after Hugo tells him to play "Flight of the Bumblebee" on his one-stringed guitar.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Antonio finally breaks his haughty stance and joins the group as an equal when he goes over his reticence to eat human flesh and gives his permision to others to eat his flesh if he dies. In the next scene, he is killed by the avalanche.
  • Rule of Drama: The survivors are surprised by their rescue helicopter. In real life, they found 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 the story takes place away from the sea.
  • Survival Mantra: "My name is Federico Aranda, and I will return." Sadly, he doesn't, as he succumbs to his injuries late in the film.
  • Talkative Loon: The mechanic whenever the plane's batteries are mentioned.
  • Tempting Fate: The rugbiers keep laughing and joking as the plane starts having difficulties, only realizing the seriousness of the situation right before the crash.
  • Translation Convention: All dialogue is in English despite portraying an Uruguayan plane crash in the Argentina-Chile border.
  • Red Herring: After the tail breaks, Alonso is seen fumbling with his seat belt in panic. All is set up for Alonso to fall out of the plane as a karmic punishment for leaving his seat to mock the steward earlier... but then the whole seat breaks and falls taking down both Alonso and his 'innocent' companion anyway.
  • Undignified Death:
    • Mrs Alfonsini dies on the first night, trapped to her seat and in terrible pain, after Carlitos insults and yells her to shut up.
    • As a macabre payback for his efforts to cheer up his comrades and raise their hopes, Federico dies alone on his hammock with nobody noticing until Nando returns from the outside and points it to them.
  • Unluckily Lucky: None more than the player who missed the plane and as a result the whole ordeal, but it is worth mentioning that all would have died in the beginning if a different part of the plane had hit the mountain, or if there wasn't enough snow to allow it to gracefully slide down. Small wonder the search parties assumed there wouldn't be survivors.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Asked surprisingly often about Vizintin, 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.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Up in the mountains, the only use for bills is as fuel to the fire.