First of all – THIS MOVIE CAME OUT IN 2011?? That doesn’t seam that long ago right this minute ARG.
Second – major SPOILERS for the movie The Grey
So The Grey as a movie is really quite a unique piece, its really quite strange. I mean it came out during (and I’m not sure this is over) Liam Neeson’s flurry of B-grade action roles, and many people – myself included – assumed that The Grey would be a survival based action pic, pitting Neeson against Wolf.
This movie is really not that.
On the surface its a bleak, ponderous, gloomy and slow tale of Ottway (Neeson’s character) and a bunch of no-hoper dudes whose plane crashes in the middle of not really identified but really snowy – and how all the characters die. I mean your typical survival horror is kinda front loaded with character development and then rising tension of death before some sort of brutal finale, The Grey however shows its characters basically picked off like clockwork, the finale while intense and interesting (more on that later) doesn’t really contain any of the tropes of a action survival or horror film.
All the scenes are slow, awkward and generally painful. The special effects are somewhat terrible (like it looks like a 90’s film) the characters personalities are vague, as are the MC’s motivations and as there is about as much hope of the characters survival (and yet its not meant to be a Game of Thrones level tension, its almost like the writers neglected the characters as much as life has within the film)
Still, with all that, the movie is a thing of greatness, probably one of my favourites and worthy of me blogging on about it.
You see, behind the boring and bleak context the movie is surprisingly deep subtextually. In between the rather un-movie like progression of the film Ottway’s character goes through considerable development, and shows the peaks and furrows of a good character arc. And despite the vagueness there is an oddly powerful intentionally behind it.
For example when the film begins we hear Ottway narrating a letter, which is shown as being to an (apparently) ex-lover. In the letter he says he belongs among the people in some form of remote oil station, fugitives, ex-cons, assholes he also says its been a long time since he has done the world any good. We then see an odd juxtaposition of actions, Ottway shoots a wolf that was about to attack some workers, we also see him that night setting up his rifle to end his own life. Then we also see him comfort said wolf as it dies, and oddly the event that causes him to put the gun away and carry on is hearing wolves howling in the hills around him.
That probably sounded a little nonsensical but believe me in the film it is to, watching it made me think, so is he a bad guy? Or not a bad guy? Why didn’t he pull that trigger, does he like wolves or dislike them, does he see his job as pro wolf shooter as worthwhile or is that part of the reason he thinks he’s a bad guy (he describes himself as a professional killer)
Now usually being vague is poison to story telling, in a cliche hollywood style film we’d be shown Ottway as specifically bad/suicidal/good whatever, in this film its just presented as a mish-mash of traits – much as people are in real life.
Again in a Hollywood version the con-current plan crash and Ottway’s leadership of the survivors would be presented as the catalyst with which he reclaimed the will to live and/or became a good guy and probably win his lover back. In the Grey however its presented as a desperate attempt to rally dying men that ultimately ends in all the men’s death. A few of them are picked off by the wolves, which rather than being presented as any kind of defeatable enemy are simply relentless killers never really letting up on the survivors the only real thing saving them fire and the fact that each dead human occupies the wolves for a short period. The rest die through accident or illness from their dire situation. One of the most intense was ‘John’ the asshole of the group who harassing everyone and generally was a dick the whole time eventually simply gives up, revealing that he doesn’t have anything to go back to and would rather just rest and watch the scenery before death takes him.
Anyway I’m not trying to summarize the whole movie here, but woven throughout the bleak and actually kinda boring plot are some pretty radical themes. Most of the dying men focus on their family in their last moments, its Ottway’s character that struggles the most. When he is finally left alone in the wild the last survivor he yells at God, kinda abruptly given that faith and beliefs aren’t introduced as a theme, yet like everything else with this film it just works. We have this main character that we literally know NOTHING about other than he really misses his lover and has a fair amount of wilderness survival knowledge and a little insight into his father’s poetry shouting at the sky about how he desperate he is for a miracle.
Finally in our final scene he get a brilliantly broken down sequence where Ottway lays the men’s wallets into a shrine, looking at their photos revealing pictures of their loved ones and SURPRISE M—-F—- Ottway’s lover didn’t leave him, she got sick. Throughout the film we see him think about his lover showing him in a simple bed scene while she whispers sweet stuff to him, finally in this moment the scene expands a little to show an IV drip the music shifting perfectly to show us what really happened. We also see that in Ottway’s wallet the picture is old-ish and his wallet worn, suggesting it has been some time since she passed away.
At this point Ottway realizes he has walked into the middle of the wolf’s den. And suddenly we wonder just how it this film going to end? Like a total badass Ottway smashes some sample bottles for a brutal knuckle duster and grabs a wire for use as a garrote. The final shot of the film being Ottway running to fight the alpha wolf.
As I said earlier Ottway actually has a dramatic character arc, where he travels from suicidal to still fighting on to survive. It’s kinda horrible that this arc is in the backdrop of well he’s 99.9% going to die anyway, but it doesn’t take away from the story. Now there is a really odd teeny tiny post-credit scene (which is bizarre I thought those were basically trailers for the next Marvel movie??) showing the wolf and Ottway lying together like brothers apparently taking their last breathes. I don’t think the shot adds much to the tale other than to make the film seem even more further from a cliche tropey film.
What I like best about the film is that most moves and stories have to work super hard and carefully to manipulate our emotions, whereas in the Grey its kinda just dumped on us, the twist of Ottway’s wife is got to be the most depressing sad twist since Memento yet somehow between Neeson’s amazing acting the unrelenting nature of this film its pulled off.
I dunno maybe I just need to get out more