I know that after a period of rather plentiful updates, my output has crawled as of late. School is to blame, but i find that i can’t really write reviews until i can put myself in the right mindset. Generally my reviews are almost dictations of my thoughts (isn’t all writing?), and indeed i generally have a conversation with myself as i think about the film and its merits. Its almost stream of consciousness really, i almost never return to re-write anything after i’m done with it, as i’m stuck with nothing left to say really.
With that being said, the recent weather played a large role in my next choice for film to review. The Grey is one of those rare movies where i went in expecting a good movie (high expectations are generally the death of good ratings) and walked out knowing that i had watched a great one. Basically i went in the the mindset of:
OMFG, LIAM NEESON KILLS WOLVES WITH HIS BARE HANDS!!!!
While there is indeed a bit of that, there is far more to this rather simple film then just that.
After a plane crash in the brutal winter wastelands of Alaska leaves only a handful of survivors, John Ottway struggles to survive against the weather, a pack of relentless wolves, and most importantly his own lack of will to live.
sigh… Here is another film that i may find myself gushing about so i do apologise if i lay it on pretty thick. But i simply must say that The Grey is one of those films where the entire production is just about perfectly suited, chosen, and executed considering its subject matter.
I’m going to not talk about the usual great performances by the cast*, or how Masanobu Takayanagi cinemtography captures winter in all of its frigid beauty perfectly, or how Marc Streitenfeld’s sparse scoring adds and embellishes everything it touches. No i’m going to discuss the title, there are indeed spoilers, so skip to the bottom see my score, watch the damn thing then come back here after!
Now i must give credit to the person who wrote this first, as it was their article that got me to start thinking about how the title of a film is the seat of its theme. A wonderful example of this would indeed be the title of The Grey.
What does that title mean? What hint about what the ultimate moral of the film is that title suggesting? What is “the grey”?
Well looking at the film as a whole i have to conclude that the grey is not only relating to the setting of the film, but also it describes the space between life and death that the characters find themselves in. Indeed the entire film isn’t so much a survival story (like The Edge or Alive), as the fact that everyone dies at the end renders a story about how to survive or surviving brutal situations as the complete opposite of what The Grey is trying to say.
No, ultimately the film asks us to contemplate along with the characters the simple and endlessly fascinating question of: “what is death?”
The characters all die different deaths in the film. Most of the passengers of the plane die suddenly or unexpectedly, of the survivors some are lucky to die not knowing they do, or are guided to death and leave peacefully. Some are unlucky and have death come suddenly and violently, or are the results of accidents or circumstances out of their control. These are all worth studying in and of themselves but the film reserves most interest in those that choose to die.
The film presents two characters that choose their fate and although the end result is the same the context is rather different for the both of them. Frank Grillo’s Diaz, gives up his will to live as a result of not only physical injury but also in realisation that his life has been a disappointment. He accepts that his life is over and simply sits down enjoys a moment of peace and waits for death to inevitably arrive. Although he himself is afraid of dying (as he knows it will be painful and violent) he isn’t afraid of death itself.
Neeson’s Ottman however starts the film as wanting to die but being afraid of death. He is about to shoot himself in the head with a rifle, and despite him knowing it won’t hurt, he doesn’t go through with it. The loss of his wife has almost drained him of the will to live, and although he leads the survivors and fights for his life, ultimately he doesn’t want it anymore. His arc as a character has him choose his death as a way to live, remembering the lines of a poem his father wrote, and finally understanding his wife’s words of “don’t be afraid” he charges to meet his death unafraid of what may come next.
With all of this in mind i must conclude that “the grey” is what death is to the characters, and indeed to all of us individually. To some like Diaz, it’s blackness an end to living and not worth contemplation. To others, it is a mystery that we use faith and personal experiences to colour and shift to our liking, and to others still, it is white, blinding and peaceful. The film makes no definitive statement on the subject matter, as indeed death and its meaning is ultimately left for us to decide what it is, even if we may not be able to decide how we meet it.
One particular criticism that i will level at the film would be with Ottman’s final flashbacks to his wife. While i can accept that he is picturing her in an idealised way, and choosing to remember her in a pleasing fashion. The fact remains that while she is apparently terminally ill and yet looks like a nondescript super model while on her death-bed is a bit jarring and almost insincere. Its “movie cancer” cranked up to 11, and doesn’t sit very well with me.
The biggest and most harming problem is a completely unnecessary post credits scene that adds nothing to the dénouement and almost hurts the moral of the story, and represents the only serious blemish on an otherwise superb film.
The Grey while certainly not being an overly happy or uplifting film, is still very much a life affirming film. While not providing any ultimate answers on one of life’s great mysteries (how could it really?) it does say that death isn’t anything to be afraid of. It is a film that is as good as any rumination on the subject matter of death can be, and i can’t recommend it more strongly.
**** 1/2 OUT OF FIVE
*i must make mention that Liam Neeson did this film after his wife had died in a skiing accident. Considering the subject matter, and setting this must’ve been a highly personal matter for him to tackle and indeed it shows in a wonderfully pained performance by him.