Society of the Snow (2023)
If you like harrowing tales of endurance, heroism, and survival, the Netflix film La Sociedad de la Nieve (2023), or Society of the Snow (dubbed in English), is for you. But if you are afraid of flying, we suggest you skip this one. Directed by J. A. Bayona and written by Bayona, Bernat Vilaplana, and Jaime Marques this gripping movie tells the agonizing, true life tale of the doomed flight of a 1972 rugby team from Uruguay that crash landed in a snowy Andes mountain range on its way to Santiago, Chile.
The film spends some time establishing the friendships and camaraderie of the athletic young men who embarked on the journey, showing them at rugby practice, in a café, and departing from the airport with loving family members seeing them off. But most of the film puts viewers smack in the middle of a treacherously icy mountain after the plane crashes, killing both pilots and many passengers; a terrifying descent during which the back half of the cabin literally rips away from the rest of the plane. The crash landing instantly and gruesomely kills many passengers, and of those who were still alive, many were badly injured.
The film does a remarkable job of conveying how the survivors contemplated moving forward in an unthinkable situation. After dealing with the dead, dying, and wounded, the attention of the group was immediately focussed on surviving the cold, finding food and water among accessible suitcases, and of course, contemplating the chances of a rescue. But when the rescue plane appears and departs without spotting them, they soon realize they’re on their own.
But what that means exactly is both gut-wrenching and morally-challenging. Bayona graphically conveys that survival for this dwindling group is not solely about physical safety in the wickedly cold environment but about mental toughness and ethical dilemmas like what will happen when the food runs out. Although they quickly devise a way to melt snow into potable water, the bigger question is what they will eat and who among them is willing to do the unthinkable and use the fallen passengers as a source of sustenance. The choice is easy for no one, but the growing realization that help is not coming gives way to an agonizing decision about who will eat, who will be eaten, and who will prepare the “food”.
None of this is sensationalized, but worked through in one-on-one and group conversations where the brotherhood of the men leads them to offer their bodies as sustenance to the group in the event of their deaths. But all is not lost, and these men aren’t giving up.
Indeed, across multiple expeditions, they bravely set out in small groups to assess the icy terrain, and surmise if it is at all possible to make it to the nearest inhabited region on foot. But to do so, their ingeniousness is tested as they must construct sleeping bags, hiking sticks, and suitable cold weather gear out of the things they can salvage from the luggage. You see, since they were inappropriately dressed for such cold weather while onboard, the crash meant that they were ill-prepared for the frigid temperatures that awaited them. Together they must survive starvation, sunburns, frostbite, avalanches, and despair.
Finally, a group of three sets out to scale the mountain to get help. The film does a good job of depicting the fear, anxiety, and acceptance of those left behind; those who do not and cannot know if their brothers have made it to civilization. One turns back as a food shortage looms, and two valiantly plough forward across glacial terrain for days until they stumble upon a lone man on the other side of a river. Help at last!
While the film shows the swarms of reporters and military that descend on the two men, it also depicts the jubilant moments when the rescue team, with the help of one of the survivors, finally makes it to the crash site to rescue the others. But what the film does not depict is the connective tissue of the loved ones left behind, distraught when news of the crash first arrives or grieving after months have passed without news, or the military personnel tasked with rescue or recovery during the agonizing incident. Although something is lost with these omissions, arguably the film’s narrow focus on the plight of the survivors still does an admirable job of conveying the human will to survive and all the good that human beings are capable of under the most harrowing of circumstances.