Blog Directory CineVerse: A wolf in monster's clothing

A wolf in monster's clothing

Friday, May 15, 2015

Although it comes camouflaged in all the genre conventions and trappings of a formulaic horror film, "The Grey" is actually quite a philosophical excursion that asks deep existential questions of the viewer. Thematically rich and worthy of repeated viewings, this picture gets to the heart of what it means to be live and die as well as our place in nature. Here's what our CineVerse Group uncovered:

Man’s place in nature. The men can be seen as invaders infringing on the territory of the wolves (nature), who are simply doing what they instinctually know to defend their territory and survive. Reviewer Thomas Caldwell wrote: “The Grey is a critique of American foreign policy and military intervention, with the men from the oil drilling team representing an invading force and the wolves representing local insurgents. The wolves use their knowledge of the environment and the element of surprise to pick the men off one by one, like guerrilla forces who have changed the rules of engagement to compensate for their smaller numbers and inferior weaponry. When Diaz graphically decapitates a wolf and holds its head like a trophy while screaming at the pack, ‘You’re not the animals, we’re the animals!’ he has committed a war crime, making him worse than the enemy he is fighting against.” Director Joe Carnahan further offered: “It’s also man’s intrusion on the natural world and industry, and the fact that we’re always encroaching on this thing (nature).”
The important of maintaining dignity in the face of death and how the way we approach death says a lot about us as human beings.  Think about how the early wolf Ottway shoots dies—simple, peaceful, as part of nature.  Director Joe Carnahan said in an interview: “The very basic thesis is, ‘As important as it is how you live, it’s equally important how you die.’” Additionally, an interviewer posited “whatever these guys thought was going to happen with their death was what happened,” to which Carnahan replied, “That is absolutely a spot-on assessment.”
Fate vs. free will and self determination. Think about how one of Ottway’s group asks: “How could we survive the plane crash if it wasn’t meant to be ordained?” He is met with the response: “Ordained by who? Nah, just blind luck. Fate doesn’t give a fuck.”
Does God exist, and if not, how are we to find and salvation in both life and death? 
o “The Grey” has been called an atheistic, nihilistic, even cynical film, while others consider it very philosophical and spiritual. 
o Consider how Ottway calls out for God’s help, but soon he’s desperate and says “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” Films rarely depict atheism in such a supportive stance—they typically turn to religious beliefs as a source of strength, hope and salvation. 
o Interestingly, Ottway’s faith, if he had any before, isn’t miraculously reinstated by the end of the picture.
o Consider, too, how any characters that had faith or religious beliefs are killed. The lone survivor outlasts them arguably on the merits of his own inner resolve, intelligence, contempt for his situation, and bravery.
o Blogger Derek Murphy suggested: “The atheist, who has lost all faith in life after his wife died and was ready to kill himself just before the crash (symbolically disrupted by a wolf – the same creature who later takes his life?) has no illusions to distract him. He focuses on the here and now. He appreciates the necessity of the fray. Life is a brutish battle. Only the strong survive.”

Perhaps the moral is that life is not simple or easily understood in black and white terms; there are many shades of grey inherent in our existence.
“The Grey” could be referring to the grey wolves or the grey wilderness or Ottway’s “grey matter” in his brain. Wikipedia says grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.
Just as the color grey is the intermediate shade between black and white, “the Grey” could be the intermediary moral and existential state between good and evil, life and death, or even heaven and hell. 
If you give credence to the latter, perhaps “the Grey” is a kind of purgatory that Ottway must endure—a test he must pass before he can rest in peace. One theory is that he has already died, but he cannot transcend to “heaven” or his soul’s next state of existence until he has proven himself worthy somehow as a survivor, fighter, or resourceful person capable of redemption. Ponder the possibility that Ottway could have actually died several times throughout the film (e.g., when he attempted suicide, during/immediately following the plane crash, etc.), and that what we see in the snowy wilderness is actually him in a kind of purgatory between two worlds.  Isn’t it strange, after all, that Ottway awakens after the plane crash thrown far from the wreckage, alive and in one piece.
Caldwell further posited: “Similar to Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), and before that Charles Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel “Heart of Darkness,” Ottway’s physical journey is a metaphorical journey through his own soul. Many of the situations in The Grey suggest elaborate tests designed to assess his faith. Ottway may rage against God’s absence, but the cruel scenarios the men face reflect the constant presence of the insecure God of the Old Testament who constantly needs validation and evidence that his creation believes in him. The film contains symbolic moments such as a leap of faith and a deadly watery baptism, all of which test the resolve of the men and claims the lives of those who fail it. On the other hand, the Old Testament version of a harsh and judgmental God is not too dissimilar to the idea that nature is similarly unforgiving, making the film a series of punishments for the men who had the audacity to think they were the rulers of their domain when they are merely its subjects. Whether the punisher is an indifferent universe or a vengeful God, the men in The Grey suffer for their arrogance.”
Carnahan said in an interview: “It’s the grey area. It’s between life and death, this nebulous thing that you don’t really understand.”

Ottway’s flashback/memory of his wife, which could represent a kind of heaven or serene state of mind/existence—a place he’s now far removed from.
The wolves themselves, which symbolize a force of nature that is neither good nor bad, yet both beautiful and terrifying
Ottway as a Christ-like figure shepherding his flock
Ottway as an Alpha wolf/leader of the pack

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), which also depicts an extreme survival struggle in the snowy wilderness and gives viewers a bleak, ambiguous ending
“The Edge” (1997)
“Apocalypse Now” (1979) and Joseph Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness”
Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”
The short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
“Alive” (1993)

“Narc” (2002)
“Smokin’ Aces” (2006)
“The A-Team” (2010)

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