On October 13, 1972, a chartered air force plane left from Uruguay to Santiago, Chile. On board were five crew members and 40 passengers, including 19 members of the Old Christians Club rugby union team, as well as their families, supporters and friends. In the middle of the high Andes, the plane crashed. When sixteen survivors were discovered 72 days later, it was a big story. When it was learned that they had survived by eating their dead companions, their story became an international sensation. According to El País, the incident has been the subject of 26 books and thirteen films.

Society of the Snow (La sociedad de la nieve), directed by J.A. Bayona, is not a documentary. It is based on the 2009 novel by Uruguayan author Pablo Vierci. A friend of mine who read the novel described it as “respectful,” which is exactly how I would describe the movie.

As the plane smashes into a mountain, the wings are torn off and the airplane is severed in two. Twelve people are killed instantly and five more die that night. With these deaths and each subsequent one, the victims are identified onscreen by name and age.

The survivors try to keep alive despite the freezing temperature and their various injuries, waiting to be rescued. They find a transistor radio inside the wreckage, create an antenna and listen for news. On day 11, they learn that the search for them has been called off. As bad as their situation is, it gets worse. They are hit by avalanches, killing eight more Uruguayans. They run out of food and anything that even resembles food, such as cigarettes and leather. They know they will all die unless they can find protein. There is only one possible way to save their lives…eating the bodies of their deceased friends and relatives. All the survivors are Catholics.

There are long and emotional conversations about the morality of becoming cannibals. Even though Society of the Snow is a frightening and action-packed disaster film, it is these discussions among young friends who have never really confronted the possibility of death that are most memorable.