At one point during Stranded: I Have Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains, a documentary about the group of Uruguayan students whose plane crashed in the Andes during the intense snowstorms of 1972, the survivors recount the moral struggle of whether they should eat from the dead bodies of their fellow passengers. One recalls another survivor turning to him and saying that if Christ gave his body and blood to save humanity, then the bodies of those who died would serve as a sort of Holy Communion also. Without this sacramental understanding, the film would become a rote History Channel exercise in the indomitable power of the human spirit. Indeed, this is a story that, until now, I had no idea modern society was capable of telling.
It is not, in fact, an entirely modernist society telling this story, but rather the survivors themselves, who are thoroughly Catholic (and thus premodern) in their view of the human body. For Catholics, the human body is shaped and organized by the soul. This is not the simple mind-body dualism to which we are accustomed, where the body and the soul are separate (if not competing) entities. Thus, when deciding to eat their fellow dead in order to survive, the issue was more than just social taboo. In this sense, cannibalism is destroying the very imprint of the soul-a problematic venture at best.
Stranded takes a surprisingly Socratic approach to storytelling. It is a slightly wandering, meditative process. There is no narrator, only the survivors themselves retelling the story in turns, and the filmmakers add very little apart from some reenactments and intelligent montaging. They take the documentary approach of Lake of Fire, allowing the survivor’s hopes and horrors to explain themselves. It does this, however, without Lake of Fire’s chorus of intellectuals chiming in periodically. It takes a great deal of artistic courage and ability to treat this topic with such delicacy. The film can only be faulted for dragging somewhat in the beginning and not differentiating itself early on from a typical “survival” documentary one might see on a broadcast of 20/20 or Nightline.
The film’s care in telling the story, however, produces a real sense of condemnation for the invasiveness of the media after the survivors return. It highlights the abnormal intrusion of it all, that reporters would act as a social police who also thrive on the giddiness of sensationalizing the survivor’s plight. It is clearly shown that the modern media feeds upon the titillation of both arousing interest in and pronouncing judgment upon the survivors by publicly declaring them to be cannibals. The film, though, while it could fall into the same trap as media, does not pronounce either way, and manages to differentiate film as a medium for truth (compare this with the media’s absolute claim to the truth of a situation). The makers of Stranded clearly sympathize with their subjects, yet there is no need to overstate the bitterness or the hope that is found in the men’s situation. It is manifest from the stories that they themselves tell.