I watched “The Grey” in theaters today and it was a transformative experience. It’s difficult to explain how one film can completely change the way that I look at my life and the world. I’ll do my best, though, to show how this visceral movie has helped me reexamine my life. Before I get into it, let me give a brief overview of the plot.
A badass wolf killer (Liam Neeson) in Alaska becomes stranded in Alaska where he has to kill wolves.
Either directly or in subtext, “The Grey” delves into the following themes: love, death, alcoholism, survival, the relationship between man and animal, hunger, racism, family, suicide, religion and faith, search for purpose in life, solitude, teamwork and leadership, feminism, violence in the media, and alienation in culture. I could describe in depth as to how “The Grey” explores and probes each of these subjects, and then proceeds to track down and murder it. This would take quite a while though, and to fail to completely understand the great filmmaking that has gone into this work of art would be a tragedy on the same scale as The Black Death. I do wish to discuss the theme in this film which pervades and overpowers all emotion in every scene: It’s totally possible that at literally any time in any scene a wolf will jump out of nowhere and eat someone to death. Do you understand how awesome this idea is? Simply by throwing some wolves into a movie, director Joe Carnahan holds a mirror to the audience and forces them to confront their mortality. Just like death, wolves feel no fear, cannot be dissuaded by nature or bullying or fire, don’t care whether it is daytime or night, and are completely unavoidable. One contrast between wolves and the concept of death is that these wolves could potentially be defeated by Neeson’s character, but on second thought, definitely not.
Let’s just gloss over the fact that Ottway’s (Neeson) job is wolf killing. He is so much more badass than that. Read his list of quotes and bask in how much he is the epitome of everything awesome in this world. There’s one lame quote, sure “Who do you love? Let them take you.” Fuck that, look at literally everything else.
“I’m going to start beating the shit out of you in the next five seconds.”
“Don’t move. Stare right back at them.”
“Fuck faith! Prove yourself!”
“We’re going to get a large branch and sharpen the end of it, and we’re going to shove it up this thing’s ass. Then we’re going to eat it.”
Note: Ottway doesn’t yell these lines. He says them like he’s ordering a pizza. He’s so calm and cool that these lines are almost (but actually not even close to) as scary as the wolves in the movie. Tired of scaring the shit out of the wolves and his fellow men, he eventually gets into an argument with God over why he doesn’t help him (the more interesting question is if God himself could fight the wolves). When God doesn’t answer his cries for help, Ottway pretty much flips him the bird and tells God:
“Fuck it. I’ll do it myself.”
Alright, back to wolves jumping out of nowhere and attacking people…
Why can’t this be a thing in movies? It’s such a great narrative tool. By showing the humanity (and vulnerability to wolves) of characters, the audience will relate much more strongly to them. At least, I totally would. And now a list of works of fiction that would benefit from this (hopefully soon to be popular) trope:
- The Great Gatsby
“And I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool, who is also talented at fighting wolves. Because in East Egg, the wolves are ferocious and will not stop until humans have left their home.”
- The Shawshank Redemption
“Get busy living, or get busy dying… from all the wolves!”
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you… wolves!”
“I’m the king of the world! Also, our ship is about to hit an iceberg populated by wolves!”
- Gran Torino
[to wolves] “Get off my lawn!”