‘The Grey’ is not the movie that was marketed to you. This is not ‘Taken with Wolves’. And that is one of the best things about this movie. In less capable hands that would be the movie you would get, but director/writer Joe Carnahan makes it so much more. You can take the film at face value and enjoy it as just a survival thriller in the wilds of the Alaskan north, where men try to survive the wilderness and the onslaught of a pack of wolves stalking them day and night. However, the wonderful thing about this film is that it is a subtle, symbolic story of coming to terms with your own mortality. Thematically; the closest film I can relate this one to is ‘Stand by Me’. It feels like the boys from that film met back up in middle age and are reflecting on their lives and what has become of them.
The story on the surface is this: John Ottway (played by Liam Neeson) is on contract at an oil refinery at the end of the world. His job is to protect the men working from wolves that find their way into the area. He is a life saver yet at the start of the film, can’t save his own. On the way back to his home, a group of workers are thrown into a terrible plane crash and stranded on the icy tundra. After the few survivors are able to get their surroundings, they realize that they are facing another threat. The steely cold sound of wolves howling close to the crash site. In a terrifying scene, the men stand frozen in their place as numerous glowing eyes surround them in the darkness. The men decide to move towards the trees in an effort to survive as they are beset by dwindling numbers and the cold reality that death is upon them.
That movie, in and of itself, is thrilling and frightening. But the genius of this film is that it takes such a common setting and injects it with patience and insightfulness. Sure, this could have been an instance of a beat by beat, man vs. nature film, where they set traps and constantly doing battle against the wolves, but that film would have been easily forgettable. What transpires here is something that will stay with you long after the film ends. These could have been stereotypical characters that serve as nothing more than wolf food, but that’s not who they are. In a brilliant scene the men discuss what is important to them, what makes them who they are, what filled their lives. In the face of death, the pretense is dropped from their personality. It reminds me of looking into the mirror when no one is around. When it is nothing more than you; face to face with the reality of who you are.
This is a film that symbolizes a life. The challenges in ‘The Grey’ can represent anything that you have struggled with in your own life and how and why you’ve chose to go forward. The wolves and their instantly recognizable voice are like the quiet whisper in your head that reminds you of your own mortality. There is a scene in which Ottway, in a fit of desperation, calls out to God to show him any sign that there is something more. In response we get the cold wind washing through the pine trees, and the grey sky with nothing to say. He is left with feeling of pure reality, that his cries may fall on deaf ears, and it is up to him to make what is left of his own life.
Each of us knows that one day our time will be up. We don’t know when or how, but as soon as we can comprehend the idea, it is one that never fully leaves us. We have the ability to push it far down, to cover it up in an attempt to forget. But that thought is always there and the older you get the more it claws its way back up. It strikes you when you least expect it. When you are young it terrifies you but also feels like it will be forever away. The older you get, you realize just how fast time moves. How cruel a joke it can be. When you are a kid you wish so much to be an adult, and as an adult you wish you could slow down and hope to make it all last. And the more that voice plays on you. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. It forces you to reflect on yourself, on your life, and how you want to live it for the time you have remaining. ‘The Grey’ asks you to stare that in the face and to not be afraid. To look at the legacy you will leave behind you. Whether it is your children who carry and pass down the ideals and lessons you pass down to them (and they to their children), or be it the deeds you did in your life that made an impact on those around you. This is a movie that dares you to see yourself in the same light as the characters, to see that naked fragility that looks back at you in the mirror. To embrace the idea of mortality and to understand the importance of your own life.
‘The Grey’ is an absolute must see film. It is a great film and one I hope to come back to again soon.
The Good: an intense survival thriller that will have you with it every step of the way, while at the same time being a beautifully crafted reflective piece on life and death.
The Bad: I can’t really find anything to say bad about this film. If you can’t handle films with the theme of this movie, than I would say best to stay away from this one because it is unflinching.
Worth a Rental: Definitely. This is worth a buy. A movie that begs to be seen again and something that is filled with ideas that will stick with you after the credits have rolled. Again, this is a GREAT film and I can’t recommend it enough.