Is the Society of the Snow Better than Alive?

Is the Society of the Snow Better than Alive?
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Is the Society of the Snow Better than Alive? That’s the question. But a ton of you are like… what the heck is Alive, and why do I care? Well, intrepid web visitor, you care because this plane crash was an enormous deal – so big, that a pile of talent came together back in 1993 to retell the story. Ethan Hawke, swoon, even joined in on the fun. (If you’ve read my long-winded blathering about The Before Sunrise series, you know that he and Julie Delpe are two of my favorite actors.) So, having Society of the Snow drop in like a four ton piano onto the legacy of the movie Alive, initially made me want to scream. But, having watched Society of the Snow, I can unbiasedly recommend it to my readers without reservation.

You should already be familiar with the story of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, but if you are not… you should stop reading now, and either go watch the old school Ethan Hawke movie Alive, or Netflix’s new chart topper, Society of the Snow. If you don’t, the rest of this article will ruin the story for you, thoroughly. This story has had books written about it, plays, histories, diorama depictions… I am making stuff up at this point. But the larger idea is that this is a tale as old as time. And, the latest installment in this series is J.A. Bayona’s “Society of the Snow,” – which in its turn, is an adaptation of Pablo Vierci’s 2009 book, which got most of its facts from Piers Paul Read’s 1974 book “Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors.” So, yeah, the narrative archeology going on here is pretty crazy – so join with me as we spelunk the differences between Alive and Society of the Snow, and as we determine which film is more true to the actual events that happened that fateful 1973 day.

A Terrifying Reality: The Crash and Its Aftermath

The core of both films revolves around the factual horror of the crash, the immediate aftermath, and the incredible struggle for survival in the unforgiving Andes mountains. The facts alone are chilling — a plane sliced in half by a mountain, the search called off, and survivors resorting to cannibalism. “Alive” and “Society of the Snow” both attempt to capture the essence of these events, portraying the desperation, fear, and the indomitable human spirit that emerged in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Character Portrayal: Realism vs. Hollywood Gloss

One notable difference lies in the portrayal of characters. “Society of the Snow” doesn’t invest much time in establishing individual characters before disaster strikes. The film is narrated by Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), providing some commentary but not dominating the narrative. The emphasis is on the group, mirroring the chaotic nature of catastrophe, where distinct personalities emerge in the crucible of survival.

On the other hand, “Alive” takes a more traditional Hollywood approach, attempting to create characters with identifiable traits and personal struggles. Therefore, it is a bit more plodding in its buildup. And definitely has an editorial style from another era. Also, it should be said that the film has been criticized for its almost complete whitewashing and Americanization of the story, with North American and Canadian actors playing roles that were originally of Uruguayan or South American descent. Alive didn’t even attempt to bring their ethnic backgrounds into the retelling of the story. And it should be said, that that is a really great new perspective that modern cinema has attempted to rectify as a whole. Twenty years ago, Hollywood thought it a compliment to drop Bruce Willis into an ethnic role and no one thought anything of it… why? Because American Cinema thought they were doing the story and the characters a service by bringing these A-listers to the story. Bringing box office results to this unknown situation or story. And yes, I’m fully aware of how myopic, and American-centric that is, and how horrible this perspective is. It is the one really awesome change that I adore about this adaptation – we get Spanish, Spanish actors, and as a result, we get a more truthful retelling.

Is the Society of the Snow Better than Alive? An investigation of the story, and of the two films about this tragic story.

Narrative Choices: Adventure vs. Gritty Survival Tale

Also, it should be said that Frank Marshall’s version – Alive, takes on a more adventure movie tone, complete with a bombastic score and a Hollywood gloss. While it effectively conveys the terror of the crash and subsequent avalanche, it leans towards a polished, inspirational narrative. How do I know? Because, after watching Society of the Snow, I forced myself to sit down, and pull up Alive again, to see what I had glamorized in my mind. It is Ethan Hawke after all. But in contrast, Bayona’s Society of the Snow embraces a darker, grittier tone. Bayona, known for his work in survival stories like “The Impossible,” brings a more realistic and emotionally charged atmosphere. The film’s technical prowess, moody cinematography, and haunting score contribute to a narrative that feels both raw and powerful.

The Impossible Decision: Cannibalism and Its Portrayal

A pivotal and haunting aspect of the Andes survivors’ story is the desperate decision to resort to cannibalism. Both films grapple with the ethical and psychological dimensions of this choice, presenting the survivors’ debates on screen. The challenge lies in portraying such a sensitive and gruesome reality tastefully. Alive features the act of cannibalism in a somewhat matter-of-fact manner, showing Roberto slicing a piece of flesh off a deceased victim. Society does the same with a bit more distance, reflecting the difficulty of depicting such acts without sensationalism. I actually appreciated the spiritual overtones that came with the actor’s nationalities, the catholicity that troubled them, the spirituality of their yelling out for everyone to pray. It actually forced you to realize just how hard it would have been for these soccer players, who lived in a culture, steeped in spirituality, as they attempted to grapple with these horrifying decisions they had to make.

The Ending and Aftermath: Rescued But Forever Changed

The concluding moments of each film offer different perspectives on the survivors’ rescue and the aftermath. “Alive” ends with a more conventional Hollywood approach, emphasizing the rescue itself and the survivors’ return home. In contrast, “Society of the Snow” provides a more accurate depiction of Nando and Roberto’s gradual journey into a valley, emphasizing the emotional toll and the physical state of the survivors. However, both films grapple with the underlying challenge expressed by Roger Ebert — the difficulty in interpreting or explaining something inherently elusive in this tragic story.

Philosophical and Moral Questions: Bayona’s Approach

Bayona’s “Society of the Snow” takes a less explicit but more nuanced approach to the philosophical and moral questions raised by the Andes survivors’ actions. The film allows these questions to breathe, acknowledging the profound psychological and moral impact of the survivors’ choices. The story is horrifying. The plane crash. The abandonment. The loss of hope. The questions of their abandonment by God. Then their extended tragedy that comes in the form of an avalanche. The desperation. The tragedy piled on top of tragedy. It’s an unbelievably terrible story. So iconic, and so scary, it rivals the Colorado story of the Donner party and the chaos that happened as a wagon train attempted to head west.

Regardless, after recently watching both films, I’ve come to the realization of just how bad for cinema our whitewashed past has been to these iconic stories from far reaching areas of the globe. Who is to say that Ethan Hawke, or Bruce Willis, should be the A-lister to sell this story. Allow the truth of the story to come through and we will all be the better for the watching. Alive’s more Hollywood-centric approach, with its attempt at a more buffed and polished story and more recognizable faces, loses the darker and grittier reality that Society of the Snow opted for. Regardless, the enduring fascination of this tragic tale lies in its primal exploration of human resilience and the unfathomable choices made when survival is the only option.