The Grey: a story about the inevitability of death, and the importance of self reliance

Liam Neeson in 'The Grey'

Liam Neeson’s performance in The Grey was unparalleled.

Though the story starts out somewhat like a would-be typical Hollywood flick following the done-to-death ‘great adventure’ scenario; the film actually incorporates many elements that would be more typical in an art house film, than in a Hollywood blockbuster. Furthermore, the film leaves the viewer with a somewhat ambivalent feeling about what the true intent of the film is. The most apparent theme appears to be triumph-over-evil. However, the dynamics are a little different in this piece from a regular triumph-over-evil scenario. The Grey depicts men who, even when the odds are stacked against them, and the chance of winning is nearly zero, continue to fight. This is a classic recurring theme in many Chinese fables. Though there is nothing that overtly indicates that that is where the plot was derived from.

The main character, Ottoway (played by Liam Neeson), is a suicidal, depressive, yet wise man who works for a non-descript company as a wolf killer. His job is to protect the workers on the Alaskan frontier from being attacked, and this is the character’s specialty.

On a chartered plane ride over the open Alaskan frontier, all hell breaks loose. And in a believably realistic crash sequence which very accurately depicts the confusion, chaos and fear one would expect to encounter in an actual plane crash, the plane slams into the ground, and Ottoway blacks out.

Ottoway awakens to see nothing but white. After orienting himself, he finds himself fifty yards from the plane wreckage, and begins attempting to save lives. Ottoway emerges quite early on as a leader of the group, who seems to have an uncanny ability to sense impending danger. Very quickly it becomes apparent that there is a sinister evil lurking out in the already ominous white tundra…wolves.

The wolves begin picking the group of survivors apart as the group of men work their way towards what they believe is the path to civilization. One-by-one people are lost, some to wolf attacks, other to altitude sickness. Though I won’t spoil this film for enthusiasts who haven’t screened it yet, I will say that the ending is not what one would expect, however it is in line with the art house style that is also prevalent in other recent American films, such as The American.

The existence of God, and his seeming lack of concern for the group of men is brought up frequently, seemingly in an effort to not only underline how isolated the group of men are, but also to perhaps convey the religious beliefs of the writer (or the lack thereof). This story is not in any way a story which advocates the reliance on hope, or the reliance on an invisible presence, such as a deity, but only on one’s self.

The plot is not simply about a group of men trying to make it home, but a story of persistence in the face of evil. The wolves appear to represent an evil demonic force which haunts the men, regardless of where they go. All characters, no matter their rank or status, express deep concerns and fear over the wolves. All men, show that they are indeed, only men, with fears, hopes and dreams. The wolves appear to be representative of death itself. At one point or another, virtually everyone is killed by the wolves. Throughout the film, there is a soothing melancholy piano piece which plays with a powerful effect in concert with the screenplay.

One of the details that stood out above anything else that likely many viewers missed or were oblivious to, was the amazing work on make-up. Throughout the film, the men are dusted in snow, icicles and dirt. These fine details bring to the film a certain authenticity that would likely be missing without this subtle, yet vital attention to detail.

This film is definitely worth watching, and it’s conceivable that it will probably be a good contender for best film in the next Academy Awards.

© Aaron M. Nolan 2012

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