Wikipedia defines survival as “the struggle to remain alive and living.” Next to that definition should be a picture of Aron Ralston, the poster boy for survival at any cost.
His name may not ring a bell, but his remarkable story will make you wonder how far you would go to stay alive. You see, Ralston is the American mountain climber who was trapped by a boulder for five days in May 2003 and was only able to free himself by amputating his own arm.
His story is told in unflinching detail in 127 Hours, starring James Franco. The film is so intense some audience members have suffered panic attacks and lightheadedness.
The same can’t be said of Alive, the 1993 film about a Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the Andes, who, once their rations of wine and chocolate ran out, were forced to eat their deceased teammates to stay alive.
Based on real events, the facts of the story are gut-wrenching, but as New Yorker critic Anthony Lane pointed out “most people know the story already; everyone began to titter with anticipation whenever one of the characters said he felt hungry.”
The ghoulish humour some audiences found in the film’s story of survival was echoed in Lane’s review when he wrote that the film, “solemnly wring(s) a message of togetherness from the horror. Come closer to your friends than ever before, the movie says: have them for lunch.”
Less known than Alive’s cannibalistic rugby players but just as compelling is Touching the Void, another true-life endurance drama.
The movie’s lesson?
Never go mountain climbing.
Roger Ebert called the story of Joe Simpson’s slow, painful climb from the bottom of a crevice to rescue “the most harrowing movie about mountain climbing I have seen, or can imagine.”
Most of these movies have happy (or at least happy-ish) endings, but not all stories of survival end in triumph.
The anti-survival movie genre is alive and well, even if the characters usually aren’t by the end of these films.
Into the Wild, the Oscar-nominated story of an idealistic dreamer not up to the challenges of living on his own in the wilderness of Alaska, and Open Water, the tale of a pair of swimmers who become shark bait, don‘t have the inspirational uplift of some of the other movies I’ve mentioned, but can be essays in courage (or stupidity, depending on your viewpoint).