Thoughts on Stranded

A few weeks back I posted about a movie called Stranded from Zeitgeist Films that is due to be released on October 22nd. The film is a documentary that tells the story of the 1972 Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes and were given up for dead. 16 members of the team not only survived the crash, but also lived for 72 days in the mountains, before two of them managed to walk out to civilization and find help.

Last week I was sent a screener DVD of the film and earlier tonight I had a chance to watch it. The movie follows the survivors of the incident as they return, for the first time, to the site of the crash and their 2+ month long ordeal. Many of them went back with their own children, sharing with them the pain and joy of survival. Five minutes into the film I was riveted, and if I had to use one word to describe it, it would be mesmerizing.

The film is in Spanish with subtitles, and it is shot in a stark manner. Their aren’t a lot of colors in the film, but we’re not watching for the beautiful scenery. This is a story about survival, and the muted, sometimes bleak, colors help to convey the sense of complete hopelessness that the survivors faced at times.

Stranded opens up by introducing some of the Uruguayans who were on that plane back in October of 1972. They talk about how excited they were to travel to Chile for a long weekend and a rugby match. Most of them were a mere 19 or 20 years old, going on their first plane trip, and excited about the possibilities.

As the movie proceeds, more of the 16 survivors are introduced, and each of them adds their own personal insights to the story. They talk about the storm that caused the crash, what it was like in the hours and days afterwards, and their feelings as the realization sunk in that no one was coming for them. There were actually 24 survivors in those early days, but over the course of time, other succumbed to injuries, starvation, and the elements.

The days that followed the crash became a life or death struggle, with the team waiting to be discovered. At one point, an avalanche swept down the mountain, burying them and the remains of the fuselage of the plane. The survivors dug their way out, but it left them weak and beaten, and keenly aware of the dangers of where they were.

Eventually, the 16 remaining survivors realize that they’re going to die on the mountain unless they make an attempt to get down. So, they chose three of their strongest and sent them off to find help. One eventually returned, but two others proceeded out, and after a week and a half of walking, finally found a sheepherder who alerted the authorities. Before too long, they returned with a rescue helicopter, and after 72 days on the mountain, they were rescued at last.

Of course, the controversial part of the story is exactly how they survived. With little food, the young men were forced to resort to cannibalism, a fact that made an already amazing story, all the more sensationalistic following their rescue. They immediately became international heroes, but the cloud of cannibalism hung over them one the less, and the topic is dealt with in the film in a delicate, but straight forward manner. They did what they had to do to survive. They didn’t like it, and it left a lasting impression on all of them, but given the gravity of the situation, there was little else that could be done. The film doesn’t an excellent job of conveying this aspect of the story.

All in all, I’d highly recommend Stranded. Sure, we’ve heard the story before in other films and books, but this is told directly from the mouths of the survivors, and I guarantee that you’ve never heard it told like this before. It’s very personal, and at times the emotions are still very raw. But their is also a joyful aspect to the story, and it’s a testament to the human spirit that anyone got off that mountain alive.

The film opens on Wednesday. Click here to find out where it’s playing near you.

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