The 33: Hollywood Drama or Real Life Horror?

33_contest_1200_400_widthGabby Tropp ’16
EE Senior News Editor

Imagine being trapped underground in 90℉ heat for 69 days with almost no food or water. Well this nightmare was a reality for 33 Chilean miners in 2010. A collapse at the San José Mine on August 5th left these men 2,300 feet beneath the surface of the Atacama Desert under a boulder twice the size of the Empire State Building.

    The San Esteban Mining Company, a privately owned company, opened this mine near Copiapó in 1889 to uncover the rich copper and gold deposits in the hard diorite stone of the desert. The mine had a history of accidents, many of which can be attributed to negligence on the part of the owners when it comes to safety precautions. In the dozen years before the accident, there had been eight deaths in the mines, and many other accidents because of safety violations. Additionally, the earth around the mine was known to be unstable, and many of these past accidents came about due to the shifting of the mountain. Just six months before the collapse, Chile suffered from a huge earthquake and accompanying tsunami, making the already unstable area even more dangerous. On August 5, 2010, the consequences were almost cataclysmic for the 33 miners.

    The Chilean government was heavily involved in the rescue effort, and the entire world waited with baited breath for the day that the miners would again see the light of the sun. NASA invented the pod that was eventually used in the extraction, but Australia and Canada also had drills working day and night, making the rescue effort truly international.

    Now, five years after the accident, all the men who were down in the mine still consider each other brothers. But their lives are not without problems. The darkness and dust in the mines has had long-lasting impacts on the miners’ health, and many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. One of the leaders of the crew, Mario Sepúlveda, said about his life now, “People saw the pictures of the rescue and they thought our hell was over, but in fact it was only just beginning.”

    Very soon after the rescue, the world forgot about these Chilean heroes, the men who braved the worst for their country and their families, leaving them to lives of poverty and depression. But now, with the premiere of The 33, a new movie from 20th Century Fox depicting the story of the mining accident, these men are coming back into the public eye. Sepúlveda says, “They are making a film, but our real life has no Hollywood ending.” This sentiment is felt acutely by not only the people involved, but moviegoers.

    In fact, many of the critics of this new release feel that the screenplay got in the way of the rawness of the emotions felt at the time, and the formulaic movie does not lend credence to the reality of the story. Also, many people feel that the social injustices of a corrupt mining company and the economic strife of the Chilean working class should not have been ignored as much as they were. Mikko Alanne, one of the screenplay writers for the film said that he felt they “should have pressed harder” on the social injustices in the film because it was “outrageous” that the San Esteban Mining Company was never convicted of any criminal wrongdoing, especially when it had proof that for months before the accident the mine was unstable and not safe for more work.  

    However, many moviegoers also felt that the movie was an important agent of social justice in this case. Maddy Weinstein (‘16) says, “I like that it drew attention to this issue after so many years…They did a good job of accurately depicting things instead of romanticizing the issue…I feel like the focus was accuracy rather than publicity.” She and many others were relieved to learn that a percentage of the profits from The 33 is going to each miner, making a small dent in the debts owed them by their country.

     As the government and courts of Chile feel there was nothing wrong with the conduct of the mining company, it seems like the problems faced by Chile are unsolvable, especially since mining is such a huge part of the Chilean economy. Sadly, some of the 33 are already back underground every day because, in their local economy, it is the only way to make enough money to support a family. It’s also a part of their way of life. As Sepúlveda, or SuperMario as his country began to refer to him, said, “I am going back to the mines because it is the one place I feel safe.” In reality, the danger involved in mining makes the average miner’s salary nearly double that of workers in other fields, so even after such a horrible accident resulting in PTSD, these men have no way to break out of what is more accurately described as their underground prison.

    AP Spanish classes this year have had the amazing opportunity not only to learn about this facet of Chilean culture, but to learn it from Mikko Alanne via Skype interview, an expert in the field after all the research he put into the movie script. These students had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn about both the artistic and historical nature of this movie from one of its creators. They discussed the movie’s score, learning about the use of the pan flute in Andean folk music (music derived from the indigenous peoples pre-colonially), which was the main influence for the music in The 33. Alanne also mentioned in their Q&A that the most important aspects of Chile’s culture which he made sure to include in the movie were religion and faith. The above-ground camp that was formed for the families and rescuers, Camp Esperanza, was named to reflect the hope that faith in God gave to the families and loved ones of the miners. Also, while underground, the miners used faith as a way to survive. One of the miners took over as a spiritual leader, helping the others to maintain their faith even in the face of such horror.

    Furthermore, the mining industry and government corruption are two more facets of daily life in Chile that cannot be glossed over when learning about the history and culture of the country. These struggles are faced by much of Latin America and tie in well with the AP Spanish curriculum, as students have already studied vocabulary about the economy and business, science and technology, and demography, just a few of the topics involved in studying the lack of ethics of enterprising mining companies and a corrupt government. Speaking of the movie and the students’ conversation with the screenwriter, Mrs. McNaughton, the AP Spanish teacher said, “It’s a unique opportunity for a teacher to able to offer her students,” and she hopes that the students got something valuable out of this experience. Principal Guarino added, “It was as authentic as authentic could be to go straight to the source. There’s just so much in there.” He wished that all of the students could learn something from the interview with Alanne or the movie that would allow us some insight on options for their futures, whether it be careers in engineering to help make industry safer or in movie-making to expose the world to important issues that require solutions.

    The students involved all agreed that Mr. Alanne was an amazing resource to learn from, and that the movie helped to close the gap between what Chile did to help the miners and what should have been done to help them. For more information on the accident and the 33 miners’ underground life, check out the novel Deep Down Dark, by Héctor Tobar.


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