Society of the Snow (La Sociedad de la Nieve), J.A Bayona’s new movie, which is based on the book by Pablo Vierci and tells the story of the crash of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 in the Andes in 1972 is now out on Netflix. And with the movie come many questions not just about the real-life story, but the similarities between this retelling and a previous, very famous one, the 1993 movie Alive.
Alive is loosely based on the 1974 book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read. That book, however, is a mere retelling of the facts without, as the author himself says “embellishment or fictionalizing it.” The movie which adapts the book is pretty much the opposite, an attempt at both fictionalizing and embellishing the story.
First, the movie is told in English, without any Latine actors, unlike Society of the Snow, which is fully in Spanish and features an all-Latine cast made up of mostly Uruguayan and Argentinian actors. The conditions in which the shoot took place are also very different, as in scenes near the end of the movie Ethan Hawke (who plays Nando) and Josh Hamilton (who plays Roberto), still look considerably healthy and clean. This contrasts with Society of the Snow, where, as real-life survivor Roberto Canessa shared with Remezcla, actors lost around 30 kilos each during filming and looked very close to what the survivors looked when they were rescued.
Alive also places a greater focus on the religious aspect and on Nando and Roberto as the only heroes of the story, instead of focusing on how “everyone was important” to the survival of the final sixteen, as Society of the Snow makes clear in conversations within the movie between the survivors as they grapple with injuries and how they are to survive.
Plus, unlike in Society of the Snow, which secured permission from the families of all of the real-life passengers to feature their names and which featured Numa Turcatti as the narrator, in Alive, the names of a lot of the passengers who passed away have been changed. And Society of the Snow even featured cameos from real-life survivors.
Society of the Snow, in general, takes great care to be much more accurate to the little details, while Alive attempts a very well-lit fictionalized Hollywood adventure-type story. In Alive, the return is glossed over, while Society of the Snow attempts to grapple with what it means for the survivors to return while their friends and family didn’t get to without sensationalizing it all.
Bayona also features Sergio Catalán, the arriero who found Canessa and Parrado, and the message Parrado wrote on a piece of paper, a message that would feature in newspapers and books for years to come. One that starts with “I’ve come from a plane that crashed on the mountains …”
In the end, the story Alive and Society of the Snow are telling might be the exact same one. The details of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash haven’t changed. But the way the two movies approach the story – and the care that is taken with the story itself, is very, very different.
Society of the Snow is now available on Netflix.