When I first saw the trailers for The Grey, I wasn’t planning on going to see it. The previews made it appear that the movie was all about Liam Neeson fighting wolves. It seemed to promise a lot of action and I assumed it would be one of those man vs. animal horror movies, like Cujo or Deep Blue Sea.
I have to admit that I was wrong. When someone persuaded me to go see it, the movie I saw was far better than the one I was expecting. If you’re looking for scares and gore, you shouldn’t go to this movie. You might be disappointed by the thoughtful human drama that you’ll find.
The premise is this: a group of men who have been working for an oil company up in the Arctic are flying home. Their plane crashes and only seven men survive the crash. They are stuck in the middle of nowhere and there is very little hope of being rescued. They have to contend with freezing temperatures, very little food, and, of course, a menacing pack of wolves.
Very early on, a parallel is established between the wolf pack and the pack of humans. Several times the two rival groups face off. Just as the wolves have their alpha, the humans do too. Liam Neeson’s Ottway quickly becomes the leader of this pack, since his job was to shoot the wolves before they could attack the men working at the base.
This is where the movie really takes an unexpected turn. Yes, the wolves begin to pick the men off, one by one, but what you really get is a character study. Each of the men has a distinct personality and you begin to care about them. The film seemed to me to be about life itself and how you have to embrace the good and enjoy what you have, since you never know what might be waiting around the bend. Each man faces death in a different way, and their true character is revealed in their end. All of these men have someone that they hold dear, who they think of in their final moments.
There are some great images of the wolves stalking the men at night, but what really stays with you are is the theme of survival, and of knowing when to fight and when to let go. There is some talk of religion in which, the religious men can’t understand why they would survive a plane crash only to die from the elements or wolves in the days that follow. Ottwat doesn’t believe in god. In fact, in one pivotal moment, he asks god for a sign, and when he doesn’t get any, he utters that he’ll have to do it himself. This seems to be a major focus, to survive, you have to be able to face your fears and be able to rely on yourself.
From what I’ve read online, many people are upset over the ending. If you haven’t scene the film yet, make sure you stay through the credits, because there is a brief scene at their conclusion. Anything I say from here on out will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, stop reading here.
The big climactic fight between Liam Neeson and the wolf, which the trailers seemed to promise, is never shown. The people who came to the film wanting to see Liam Neeson fighting a wolf are, quite rightly, disappointed. What actually happens is this: Ottway, who was about to kill himself the night before he was due to leave, finally decides that his life is worth fighting for. He has mistakenly been leading the men towards the wolves’ den, and, all of the other men having been picked off along the way, he finds himself alone in the middle of the den, facing the alpha wolf. Here the inevitable alpha vs alpha showdown occurs, but it is not shown. The screen cuts to black before the fight occurs. It seems to me that this ending works. The brief scene after the credits indicates that Ottway does defeat the alpha, but is this really important? What is important is his decision to fight, whether he lives or dies is almost irrelevant at that point. Even if he is able to defeat the alpha wolf, will he find civilization? There’s no guarantee.