The Grey is about Ottway (Liam Neeson), a hunter who's been charged with keeping oil workers safe from wolves out in the harsh and unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. On their routine trip home their plane crashes and Ottway finds himself reluctantly taking charge of the salvage situation, but after a pack of ferociously territorial wolves make their presence, and intentions known to the survivors, Ottway decides that it'll be best to head out to the distant treeline to better defend themselves. Ottway knows that the wolves mean to kill them, each and every one of them, so he decides to lead the survivors to the faraway treeline hoping that the wolves will leave them alone the further they distance themselves from their territory. So with his broad knowledge of the wilderness, wolves, his survival skills and his natural leadership ability, as evidenced when Ottway beautifully and almost poetically eases a bloodied and panicked man into accepting his own death earlier on. It's a remarkably powerful and emotional scene too, Ottway quickly becomes the alpha of the group.
Although I have to admit that I was a bit miffed when I first saw The Grey back in 2011, because it had been advertised as a movie that 'will do for wolves, what Jaws did for sharks' but this was not the case at all, not even close. Watch the trailer below and tell me that it wasn't presented as an action/survival movie. So I went into The Grey expecting to see Liam Neeson in a brutal survival movie fighting a pack of hungry wolves, and while The Grey is still a survival movie, in a way, it is in no way your standard survival movie. I see a lot of people denouncing The Grey as having unrealistic wolf behavior and whatever other nonsense they can come up with. These are the same geniuses who suddenly become expert sailors when 'All is Lost' came out, or experienced astronauts when it came to 'Gravity', but they miss the point completely, as I did the first time I saw The Grey too.
The Grey is not strictly speaking a survivalist movie I don't think, and nor is it about how one man, or men, fight off a pack of hungry wolves, at least not primarily. The Grey is a philosophical and existential allegory in wolves clothing, literally. The wolves are merely metaphors, nothing more, don't look at them, or their behavior too literally. The Grey is about the struggle, the struggle of life, the struggle of death, the struggle of coming to terms with death, the struggle of faith, the struggle of the lack of faith, the struggle of coming to terms with your own fears, the struggle to go on with life. Everyone struggles with something, and that is what The Grey is about, finding a reason to continue the struggle of life.
There comes a point in The Grey where Ottway tells Diaz (Frank Grillo), a man who takes a lot of pride in being a tough alpha male that he's scared, and Diaz defiantly states that he's not scared and that "I don't walk through this world with fear in my heart." to which Ottway scoffs at the notion and says "You pick that up in the pen? Somebody scribble that on the day room wall?" making fun of his shallow philosophy and life motto.
Ottway and Diaz come to blows and Diaz is confronted by one of the wolves, face to face. Diaz scrambles back to the group and every step the wolf takes forward, Diaz takes a step back. For all his tough talk and his constant shows of machismo, his courage is not nearly as unmovable as he once thought it was, and his attitude changes considerably after he's come face to face with what was essentially, the face of death. A point is made early on to show us how 'tough' most of these men are considered, they're the surly sort and The Grey deconstructs their masculine posturing so meticulously that no matter how 'tough' someone thinks they are, that there's always fear in their hearts. The Grey is an examination of what it truly means to have courage and to have the strength to face death, head on.
Aside from the gorgeous cinematography that captures the serene and hostile Alaskan wilderness perfectly, the subtle yet evocative score which is both sad and uplifting, and the beautiful panoramic landscapes, the quality of the film itself is remarkable. I'm not talking about the actual movie, but the aesthetic quality of it. The Grey has a very grainy look to it, even the bluray, which is a good thing, contrary to popular opinion. That 'grainy' look means that it's the highest visual quality possible.
It's the least processed and altered look of the film, the grain is the film, so whenever you see a bright and shiny movie, it's been heavily processed to look that way using a process called 'digital noise reduction', so the grainy affect is purposeful and represents the movies visuals in its purest form possible. 300 is another movie that retained that grainy look, it's an aesthetic choice, not poor picture quality. So The Grey looks extremely grainy, but visceral, raw and real. The 'feel' of the movie is truly remarkable if you notice it and appreciate it.
Every single actor is on point, even if they only have minor roles, but for Liam Neeson, I almost got the feeling that this movie was cathartic for him. You can see the sadness in his eyes, you can feel his pain, and hear his desperation and resolve in his voice. This is Liam Neeson's most soulful and honest performance in a long time, by far. Liam Neeson made The Grey about a year and a half after his longtime wife died, and there are so may parallels and references to his grief in The Grey that makes it a truly poignant movie on so many different levels. It's not hard to imagine that Liam Neeson was channeling the memory of his wife when he was pleading to god for a reason to go on.
Ottway and the other survivors discuss theology at one point in the movie, which Ottway admits he can't believe in, and in a moment of weakness he finds himself pleading for some sort of sign, and nothing is forthcoming, so he says "Fuck it. I'll do it myself." and the pure, heartfelt emotion in this scene is incredible, and the visual detail which comes from that 'grainy' look emphasizes the pain on his face, and in his heart so well.
As for the wolves being metaphors, they're a metaphor for death. Yes, the wolves really exist but they're representative of death. The subtext of The Grey is a bleak, and I feel inclined to say nihilistic exploration of grief, death and how people choose to face their fears. Trying to find meaning in a meaningless existence, but the meaning is the struggle itself, even if it is largely meaningless. To find the will and the courage to go on living, or to go down fighting, either way. I think that overall sentiment really resonated with Liam Neeson in a time of a personal crisis of his own. The Grey is so much more than your typical man vs wolf and nature movie. I honestly feel like The Grey is one of the best movies of the 21st century, and I'm absolutely stupefied that it comes from the same director of The A-Team. That just blows my mind.
Written by - The Sentry - 25/04/2015