Thursday, June 29, 2017

Miracle in the Andes

Director: Frank Marshall
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton, Vincent Spano, Bruce Ramsay, Danny Nucci, Illeana Douglas, John Malkovich
Released: January 15, 1993

I was not familiar with this true story of a plane crash carrying a Uruguayan rugby team and their friends and family until the movie came out twenty years after it happened. My parents saw it and my mom told me about the cannibalism (oh, we'll get to that later!) I saw the movie a few years later and recently revisited it when I saw it was on Netflix Instant. 

When watching it the first time, when I was in middle school (or high school....I don't remember), it didn't even occur to me that the majority of the actors were caucasian Americans (there were a few Hispanic actors) playing Uruguayans. Now I didn't really have that much of a problem with that as I understand that this was an American production, but still, you're not fooling anyone that Ethan Hawke isn't from South America! I also understand why they're not speaking in Spanish because, again, this is intended for American audiences, but it is weird that this is a South American rugby team and they're all speaking in English...I thought the same thing when I saw that movie about the Chilean miners who were trapped underground and they were all speaking in English too. But seeing as that they had two survivors from the actual plane crash as technical advisors, if they didn't have a problem with it, then neither do I. But it's just so weird.

A small plane (Uruguayan Flight 571) is carrying 45 passengers across the Andes (though the movie was filmed in the Canadian Rockies) to Chile where they will have a rugby match. The 45 people include the rugby team, their family and associates, and five people made up the crew. The date is October 13, 1972, and yes, that just so happened to land on a Friday. (I only know that because Wikipedia told me). The weather is foggy, never a good mix with flying through the mountains on Friday the 13th! Because of the horrible visibility, the tail and the wings broke apart from the fuselage when the plane clips a mountain peak. The plane is still flying, though, with a huge hole, and the unfortunate people in the back are ripped out of the plane along with their seats. I can't even imagine what they were thinking, or the people who were sitting at the front who knew they were inevitably going to crash.

The plane crash lands hard and goes skidding very fast down the snowy mountain. In a way, they were lucky there was so much snow...that probably saved them. It's a bumpy and terrifying ride, but it eventually comes to a stop. Seven people died from falling from the aircraft and another five people died from the crash, including the team's physician, ironically, which would be nice to have one what with all the injuries the survivors have obtained...some much more worse than others. Two of the players are medical students and help assist the wounded. They are able to do this as they only have a few minor scrapes and bruises. The co-pilot is still alive, but has blood all over his face and begs for one of the men to get his gun for him, but he tells him he can't be a part of it. The pilot eventually dies during the first night as well as three other passengers, including a woman who had her foot caught under one of the seats and kept wailing in agony until one of the players told her to shut up or else he'll punch her face. When he learns that she died that night, he feels horrible for being so mean to her. The twenty-seven survivors have laid out the bodies in the snow and the team captain, Antonio (Vincent Spano) has taken charge. The captain's name was actually Marcelo Perez, but I learned that they changed all the names of the dead out of respect. I'll get to how he perishes later.

There is only wine and chocolate (for celebrating a victory when they win the match, I suppose?) for food and they ration it out to one capful of wine and a square of chocolate for all the survivors every so often. They sleep in the fuselage and huddle around each other for warmth and block the gaping hole by stuffing it with the luggage. I got so cold watching this movie! I had to turn my A/C off and put on my zip up hoodie and get my bedspread. There's a scene where we see one of the survivors has frostbite on their feet. This movie shows how Mother Nature (especially in the Andes!) is brutal.

Ethan Hawke plays Nando Parrado, a rugby player whose sister and mother were also on board. His mother died in the crash and his sister has horrible injuries. She is still alive, but not doing well. Nando is unconscious and doesn't wake up until the second or third day. He learns about his mother's death and does his best to keep his sister alive, but she will eventually die from her injuries a week later.

The first full day, they hear a plane but it is too cloudy and they know that if they can't see the plane, then it can't seem them. A couple days later, on a more clear day, they see another plane and start waving around brightly colored clothes. The plane dips one of its wings and they start celebrating, taking that as a sign that the plane saw them and is going to get help. I can't blame them for celebrating, I would also want to hope for the best too if I were out there, but there would also be a part of me wondering if the plane really saw the crash site. Everyone except for Antonio and Javier and Lilliana, a married couple with children back home (by the way, thank God there were no children on that flight!) are the only ones who don't eat the rest of the wine and the chocolates. In fact, Antonio doesn't know that they ate all their rations and is super pissed when he finds out. He tells them that the rescuers could be doing a land rescue and it could take days before they are reached. It turns out that the plane didn't even see them at all. I read on Wikipedia that the plane that crashed was white and it blended in with the snow, thus making it difficult for search planes to spot it.

At least a week has passed and there is no food left...or is there? This is the moment of the movie that everybody remembers. Not the horrific crash, not the dangers of being in the middle of the Andes, but the discussion of eating the dead. I can't blame them - the bodies, being in the snow are well-preserved and they do need to eat, because, what else are they going to eat? Remember, there are 27 people (maybe 26 at this was hard to keep track) who need to eat. They do talk it over and how it will change them. Everyone reluctantly agrees they should do it except for Lilliana (played by Illeana Douglas). I would also say no. Not that I would feel like an evil person for eating another human beings; I do get that it's for survival, but my God! I just can't imagine humans tasting good (uh...maybe that's a good thing!) And they're eating them raw! Ughhhhhh! So disgusting! Eww! When we see the first person (Antonio, I think) cut into the rear end of one of the victims, the piece of flesh he eats looks like cold cuts. (I read that they used turkey jerky). It looks SO GROSS. I would seriously throw up. And the fact that they're eating people they know (and Nando specifically asks the others not to touch his mother or sister, which makes sense) makes it worse. If I absolutely was in this dire situation and had to eat a dead body to survive, I would want to eat someone I didn't know, for God's sake and wasn't a relative or close friend of mine. Guess I would have to eat one of the pilots! But then I would throw it up (I just know I would!) and would eventually die from starvation. I know I would die for a fact because they were stranded in the mountains for 72 days! From October 13 - December 23. A small transistor radio is found on the plane and they hear the news that the search effort has been called off, so it's up to them to get help.

The plane's mechanic survived the crash, but doesn't seem to be much help when he is asked about the radio. He says it needs batteries, which just so happen to be in the tail section. (You think the batteries would be in the cockpit). A few of the men decide to look for it and there's a scary scene where they are walking over a snow covered chasm and the snow falls and one of the men almost falls in the gaping hole, but he is grabbed by another and they form a human chain. Who knows if that really happened or if they added it in the movie. Something that really did happen was an avalanche that occurred in the middle of the night and killed eight people including the team captain, Lilliana (who eventually started eating the dead upon her husband's insistence) and the mechanic. It completely covered the fuselage and those lucky enough not to be completely covered by the snow, quickly started digging through the snow.

The search for the tail continues and this time it is found (along with a few dead bodies, still attached to their seats). The battery, however, is too heavy to carry back to the crash site, so it is decided they will return to the crash site and disconnect the radio and bring it back. Needless to say, it didn't work. Nando and Roberto Canessa (played by Josh Hamilton) decide they're going to trek down the mountains to get help. It took them ten days before they finally reached help. In the movie, it is very rushed. Before they leave to get help, Nando (or maybe it was Roberto, I don't remember) gives one of the other men one half of a pair of red baby shoes and tells him that when the shoes are united, then that means they will have been rescued. Um...why are there baby shoes on that plane? There were no babies on that flight! (And thank God!) No way this happened in real life and they were doing it to gloss up the movie a bit, but, again, I ask, why are there baby shoes on that flight? That made no sense at all!

So of course when the helicopters arrive, the baby shoes are reunited and everyone is rescued. Well, the remaining survivors are rescued. In the end, only sixteen out of the forty-five people who were on that flight survived the 72 day ordeal. It is pretty amazing that even that many people did survive!

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