I’ve always been a champion of realism in the movies — it’s usually so much more dramatic than Hollywood fakery. Now, though, I may have to reconsider my opinion. The grisly new adventure movie Alive is based on an infamous true story: On Friday, the 13th of October, 1972, an airplane carrying a team of rugby players from Montevideo, Uruguay, crash-landed in the wintry desolation of the Andes Mountains. Most of the passengers survived the crash, but a search party failed to locate them, and after eight days they heard on their transistor radio that the rescue operation had been shelved. Whatever food they had was quickly consumed. Well, not all the food. You see, there were the dead passengers, whose bodies were preserved by the cold….
All of which leads to the question: Does anyone really want to watch a movie about 16 men who survived by eating human sushi? In Alive, screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) and director Frank Marshall (Arachnophobia) reenact the tale of this modern-day Donner party with queasy verisimilitude, right down to the moment — and, yes, it is truly disgusting — when the characters begin to strip off bits of raw flesh. At the same time, the very horror of cannibalism is transformed into a spiritual, true bonding experience. The rugby players, by agreeing to violate the ultimate taboo for the noble sake of survival, get in touch with their inner, primal selves — a state of pure, even godlike, being. Robert Bly, eat your heart out!
Alive, which spans the 10 weeks the survivors spent in the Andes, takes the form of an elemental diary, a series of moment-to-moment decisions culminating in the most unthinkable, yet inevitable, act of all. The movie is scrupulous, even ambitious. Yet I found Alive almost impossible to sit through. As written by Shanley and played by such actors as Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, and Josh Hamilton, the characters come off as blandly Americanized cipher jocks (the film should have been called Dead Rugby Society). There’s something singularly unpleasant about watching people you have no empathy with undergo an ordeal this intense and horrific, only to be told they ”grew” from the experience. Alive is an unsettling contradiction: a well-intentioned gross-out movie. It may be the first film in history to say that cannibalism is good for you. C-