The Grey (2011)
Into The Wild
"The Grey" is a gutsy, pretty much relentlessly dark film. Make no mistake about it, this is no Disney creation. It's curious that the film was given the British spelling of grey vs. the American gray, but it makes little difference. The effect is the same.
The film begins by displaying Liam Neeson (the star of the film), with the quizzical name of Ottway, at one of the more desperate moments of his life. Through his voice-over, we realize he has lost the woman he loves, and is working as a driller someplace in Alaska. The weather is as extreme as his mood. The exact reason for his break up with Anne Openshaw (Ottway's wife) is never provided, but based on his voice-over and demeanor and near-desperate actions, we realize that the relationship is finished, and he just can't seem to make it without her.
Nevertheless, he feels "at home" among the rag-tag group of disparate fellows who make up the mining camp. He is not like them, but he feels at home with them because they somehow also ended up at the rat's ass end of the world. His job is that of a sharp shooter, keeping an eye open for lone wolf attacks upon the crew as they are occupied with their jobs.
The Shock of Disaster
While among this rag-tag crew on an airplane flight, the craft has some kind of failure (probably due to severe weather) and goes down. Most of the passengers die in the crash. The survivors are not quick to take Neeson's lead, even though he is the only one who knows anything about wolves, which proves to be the greatest obstacle they face -- greater than the weather, greater than the absence of food.
The plane has evidently gone down within the pack's hunting range, and the men become instant adversaries. With nothing but sharp sticks to defend themselves, the wounded survivors set off away from the wreckage, in the hope of finding assistance.
A good deal of the story deals with the pecking order among the survivors, and this draws a nice parallel with the wolf pack that is trailing them. Reduced to their most primitive selves, we are witness to the fact that men constantly test the alpha male -- for better or worse. All the actors are quite convincing, and the dialogue seems finely honed for just this kind of story.
The wolves are far better adjusted to the privations of severe blizzards and snow storms, and find that picking off the men one-by-one a relatively simple task -- all the more so since the men are so loosely coordinated. The wolves are not the only setback. The terrain and weather are treacherous, and some of the men simply cannot go the distance.
Several times throughout the film Ottway recalls himself as a child and a poem that his father wrote and placed on the wall of their home. The poem goes:
Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I'll ever know
Live and die on this day
Live and die on this day
Herein is the heart of the story in all of its Zen warrior simplicity and profundity.
When placed into such supremely severe conditions, any man can only count on getting through day by day, or even step by step.
The Limits of Desperation
The ending will not leave everyone with a feel-good, satisfactory mood. But, the ending, however dark, is without falsehood. It is hard, true and without artifice -- yet many may question its artistic merit.
The film may remind you of other flicks such as "Jeremiah Johnson", "The Mountain Men", "Man in the Wilderness", "Alive" or others but it is only distantly similar to any of them.