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Society of the Snow

El Arriero Films, 2024


J. A. Bayona / J. A. Bayona, Bernat Vilaplana, and Jaime Marques

Reading Time:

6 minutes

Society of the SnowLa Guitarra Triste (TVJ38JUQQ7JHHYAA)
00:00 / 07:42

📷 : Used with permission, Netflix

Society of the Snow


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Movies and TV shows in cold weather and blizzard conditions


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Suspenseful and intense thrillers

Reba Chaisson


We are good at saying what we would or would never do. After all, we’ve been doing it since we were six years old. But I’m not sure we have a clue what we would do if we found ourselves in the most desperate and unimaginable circumstances. This is the situation a group of early 20-somethings set to attend law school, medical school, and with aspirations for other careers, find themselves in when their plane crashes into South America’s Andes Mountains, the highest mountain range outside of Asia.

Society of the Snow is a true story based on the October 1972 plane crash, which stranded 29 members of the Uruguayan amateur rugby team and their family members in the snowy Andes Mountains. With excruciating detail, director J. A. Bayona depicts what happens to airline passengers when control of a plane is lost, and it nosedives into the earth. Fair warning that these scenes are intense. Numa Turcatti, a popular player on the team played by Enzo Vogrincic (Christian, A Twelve-Year Night), uses occasional narration to tell the story from his perspective.

Numa explains how the survivors organized themselves as a community. But the film’s sounds and visuals pull no punches in depicting the group as being exposed to nothing short of brutal cold and harsh weather over the 72 days that they are stranded. Uruguay carries fall temperatures in the 55 to 70-degree range. However, nighttime on the mountain is especially difficult, as the temperatures drop below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. So, what the survivors feel is a bone-chilling, excruciating cold, as evidenced by people screaming throughout the night due to the weather’s impact on their bodies.

Taking shelter in what remains of the plane’s fuselage, survivors pull out the seats and carefully remove the bodies of their family members and friends to make a temporary home that doubles as a hospital for those who are injured. Without gloves or shovels to help shift the snow to cover their loved ones’ bodies, the young men use their bare hands, pieces of broken metal from the plane, and whatever else they can find. They adapt suitcases and blankets as weather stripping to seal breaches in the fuselage to block the wind and blowing snow. This is something we think very little about when at home, since sealing windows and doors entail a simple walk or short drive to the local hardware store for supplies. The survivors’ efforts to create a semblance of secure shelter for themselves make us consider what life was like before modern shovels and ditch digging machines.

Layers are important when it’s cold, so they put on whatever additional clothing they can find, and they get frustrated when viable shoes and boots don’t fit their feet. Each savors his lone cracker per day as if eating the perfect cut of filet mignon, escaping for just that sliver of a moment the thought that they must stretch the food supply until they are rescued. Many families in Western societies stretch food, but rarely if ever to this extreme, nor because of a real fear of starvation. The survivors’ self-rationing is not motivated by a need to save money. Rather, it is a conscious focus on literally surviving. Still, their numbers continue to dwindle from injuries and exposure. When they run out of food, their urine turns black, and reality sets in that their rescue is not imminent, the young men are faced with a decision that tests their lifelong commitment to their Christian faith. Should they eat the bodies of the dead for nourishment in order to survive? 

Society of the Snow reminds me of other films about people stranded on mountains after plane crashes. I think of Hany Abu-Assad’s 2017 movie, The Mountain Between Us, where a small plane crash-lands in Utah’s snowy Uinta Mountains. Starring Kate Winslet as Alex Martin and Idris Elba as Ben Bass, the story feels like one about the need for immediate survival, with several intense scenes of the pair fending off a mountain lion and desperately searching for a way out of the wilderness with one of them severely injured. Although the two travelers do not know one another, they come together to support and protect each other, bonding as they go along. 

Researchers who study disaster write extensively about this phenomenon of closeness and community that naturally develops out of disaster. Scientists, who have not made each other’s acquaintance, for instance, collaborated across oceans to develop a cure for COVID-19. Time and time again, everyday folks help pull people they don’t know from rubble left by hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Researchers explain that this is due to the need for social connection in times of disaster. It is true that the passengers on Uruguay flight 571 on October 13, 1972 already knew one another and enjoyed a sense of community, but their experiences together on the mountain became their shared connective tissue. Alex and Ben in The Mountain Between Us were strangers until that fateful day, and yet, from their disaster, a bond between them was forever forged. Unlike Society of the Snow, The Mountain Between Us is a fictional story, so other than the cold and the mountains, we wouldn’t think the films share anything significant, but they do.

News media simply informs us that a plane has crashed and occasionally the reports are accompanied with distant images of the aftermath – the fuselage here, the tail there, a wheel found in a family’s backyard or a farmer’s cornfield. When possible, reporters interview survivors days, weeks, or months after the crash when they look no worse for wear. These limited (and dare I say selective) pieces convey the sense that while some lives were lost and some people suffered catastrophic injuries, everything turned out alright, as can be seen from the survivors they present to us. But after watching Society of the Snow, we realize that these news reports and images wash over what are actually horrific crashes and unfathomable experiences for the passengers – those who perished as well as those who survived.

There are still some who say “yuk,” “blasphemy,” and “heathen” when they consider what some of these young men did to extend their lives for 72 days. Little is said, though, about the ingenuity of the men in sewing together pieces of insulation to create a sleeping bag. Or in their cooperation with one another in rationing their food supply so everyone had a chance. Or in Nando and Roberto (Agustín Pardella and Matías Recalt, respectively) enduring a days-long walk in the cold and snow with busted shoes on a quest to save themselves and their now extended family. None of us can fathom enduring the kinds of conditions that would lead us to the level of desperation that prompted these young men to do the things that they did. Let’s pray, hope, and pray again that we and our loved ones never have to find out what we'd do, firsthand.

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