A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Alive is a 1993 movie based on the true story of a Uruguayan rugby team forced to eat the flesh of their dead companions to survive being left for dead in the Andes Mountains after a plane crash. Though cannibalism is the most notorious aspect of this story, the movie doesn't treat it in a sensationalized or exploitative manner; rather, it's made clear through their arguments that, despite obvious ethical and spiritual concerns, they have no other course of action to take to survive. The plane crash itself is graphically shown: Passengers are blown out of the plane in their seats after the plane splits in two. Injuries, death, blood, and shock are shown in many ways. Profanity includes "f--k" and "s--t." For older teens mature enough to grasp the testament to willpower, perseverance, and spirituality when placed in a horrific situation, Alive is as thoughtful as it is riveting.
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What's the story?
In 1972, a Uruguayan rugby team is on a small plane bound for Chile. While crossing the Andes Mountains, the plane loses power and crashes. The crash splits the plane in two, and as the survivors attempt to come to grips with the situation, they remain convinced that a rescue plane will find them very soon. When they learn through a patched-together radio that the search parties have left them for dead, the survivors must find a way to go on living with hardly any food or enough shelter to survive the brutally cold temperatures. As they struggle to remain alive and to take care of the wounded, the survivors are faced with a terrible dilemma: With no food, their only means of maintaining enough strength to find help is to eat from the flesh of their dead companions. Faced with the slimmest chances of survival, Nando (Ethan Hawke) must put aside his grief over the loss of loved ones who died and find the strength and willpower to find a way to rescue himself and those who have continued to cling to life several weeks after the crash.
Is it any good?
This film pulls no punches in showing the horrors of the actual plane crash and the many ways the survivors respond to the shock. The real takeaway from Alive, however, is not that the survivors were forced to resort to eating the meat from the bodies of their dead companions -- although that is the best-known aspect to both the true story and the movie. What really emerges here is a testament to spirituality, willpower, and perseverance in the midst of life-or-death conditions. The desperate measures they employ to survive are not exploited for a cheap and easy sensationalism but are shown to be passionately argued, pro and con, through the prisms of survival, ethical, and spiritual concerns, to say nothing of revulsion at the idea itself.
No one in the story is brave, virtuous, and rational all the time, and what comes through are the assorted psychological mechanisms the survivors employ as the days turn into weeks. Spirituality and prayer are shown and discussed, but unlike so many movies that talk of religious belief, it's not heavy-handed but a reflection of the faith inherent in these characters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies in which characters must survive disasters and harsh climates. What do you think is the appeal of these kinds of movies?
How far would you go to survive? Would you make the same decision the characters in this story do?
How is spirituality addressed in this movie? Does it seem heavy-handed, or is it a reflection of who the characters are and one of the ways in which they struggle to make sense of what's happening to them?
- In theaters: January 15, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: October 8, 2002
- Cast: Ethan Hawke, John Malkovich, Vincent Spano
- Director: Frank Marshall
- Studio: Buena Vista
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Run time: 126 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violent content and language
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