Survival Instincts – Films that celebrate the endurance of the human spirit

There are two sides to nature – one where it is quaint and homely, and the other, where it is savage and merciless. As such, when humans come face-to-face with the extreme forces of nature, there are two sides to their behavior. The first, where giving up is the only option in the face of imminent death, and the second, where the will to survive is stronger than everything else. This never-say-die attitude is what sets some apart.

 

 
The following movies have tapped this spirit beautifully and have shown what it is like to strive to stay alive when the whole universe is conspiring to make sure it is the other way around:
 
1. Alive – Retelling the real-life survival tale of the Uruguayan rugby team who crash-landed in the Andes mountains in 1972, this film makes us rethink everything we know about humanity. The tragic story follows the death of many in the air crash, and the desperate attempts by the survivors to face the cold and hunger, until they eventually recourse to cannibalism. The realistic portrayal of the blistering cold, and the effect it has on the few survivors is sure to give you the chills even on the hottest of days.
 
2. Cast Away – After his FedEx plane crashes in the South Pacific, Chuck Noland is swept ashore an isolated island. Left with a few delivery packages, he learns to make do with what he has – light a fire, hunt fish, build a raft, pull out a rotten tooth et al. Devoid of company, Noland finds an imaginary friend in Wilson the volleyball, and prepares for a daring escape from the island. Tom Hanks’ superb transformation and spot-on acting won him an Oscar for this film.
 
3. Rescue Dawn – One of Christian Bale’s lesser-known films, Rescue Dawn is inspired by the real-life account of German-born American Navy pilot, Dieter Dengler. After being shot down from his aircraft during the Vietnam war, Dengler is captured by angry villagers and tortured when he refuses to condemn his homeland. He is then thrown in prison with other war veterans, where he is pushed to his physical limits, and he finally decides to escape with the others. This marked the beginning of Bale’s fascination with physical transformations to suit the role perfectly.
 
4. The Grey – Yet another plane crash. But this one leaves the victims – low-wage earning oil drillers in Alaska – at the mercy of wolves, who one-by-one hunt the humans down. Nature and beast come together to test the physical limits of these men as they must now kill or be killed to stay alive. Fast-paced and intense, this film has iconic dialogues and manages to show what the seemingly-beautiful Alaskan wilderness has in store for us. For a change, Liam Neeson is seen battling ferocious wolves instead of bad guys, and we don’t really get to see how the battle ends. It would certainly have been a pleasure to see how he beats them up before walking away in slow motion.
 
5. 127 Hours – Danny Boyle is known for bringing believability to all his films, and he amazed the audience with 127 Hours, which narrates Aron Ralston’s real-life accident. An adventure junkie, Ralston goes about trekking the Grand Canyons, until a small mishap results in him being trapped with a bolder on his right hand. Completely alone and in searing pain, Ralston must now ration his resources and find a way to get out of his ordeal. With James Franco playing the titular role, we get a glimpse of the effects that loneliness can have on an individual’s psyche.
 
6. The Way Back – Definitely one of the most underrated survival stories shown on film, The Way Back follows a group’s daring escape from a Siberian Gulag. Trying to make their way towards India for shelter, the group must now battle severe cold, extreme heat, starvation, thirst and everything in between to survive the onslaught of nature.
 
7. Gravity – Surviving the elements of nature on Earth is not really a cakewalk, but it is possible. But what happens when an astronaut is trying to survive against the infinite expanse of space? Alfonso Cuaron’s visionary venture, Gravity wowed the audience with its gripping tale and true-to-life CGI, while also showcasing what it is like to be left for dead in space.
 
8. Into the Wild – Adapted from the book of the same name, this film is based on the real-life events that led to Christopher McCandless’ trek into the Alaskan wilderness. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of director Sean Penn and lead actor Emile Hirsch, the film offers an insight into the mind of a wandering soul. It also serves as a cautionary tale to all adventure-lovers, while showing how half-baked knowledge can prove to be costly in sub-zero conditions. Nature, after all, has its ways of showing no compassion and can go from beautiful to brutal in no time.
 
9. Life of Pi – After his family dies in a ship-wreck, Piscine Molitor Patel aka Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with a Tiger named Richard Parker for company. His desperate attempts at survival now include finding something to eat in the ocean while trying to avoid being eaten by the tiger.
 
10. Apocalypto – Directed by Mel Gibson, this epic drama showcases a young man’s attempts to save his life and that of his family. By surviving constant attacks made on his life by the Mayans, Jaguar Paw uses the forces of nature to his advantage, to avoid death at all costs.
 
Though not every character in these films makes out alive, it still serves as an inspiration for us to never give up when all seems lost. Also, when everything in life seems horrible, you can always watch one of these films to understand that someone out there has it worse than any of us. 

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