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

SPOILER ALERT – I am writing on themes from The Grey and I’ll be carelessly throwing plot details around. Read on if you’ve read the movie or don’t mind hearing about it before watching it yourself.

This weekend, I watched The Grey, a movie set in the Alaskan wilderness, starring Liam Neeson as Ottway , some other dudes and a pack of terrifying wolves. Most of the way through the film, my sweet and lovely wife would say things like, “This is awful. This is so sad.” And I agreed, and kept watching. By the end of the movie, I felt like I did after watching No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood – slightly depressed, weighty and glad to have watched a film that actually tried to wrestle with the deeper, dark things of humanity.

Through the bleak and beautiful setting, we find characters who mature and develop and wrestle with fear, suffering and the disappointment of life and the loss of it. This is not a movie for the faint of heart. The profanity is almost continuous and the violence (remember those wolves, right?) is shocking, even though the director presents more of an “Alien” and “The Thing” vibe as you never see things as clearly as many horror movies feel compelled to do now. So why do I like this movie so much?

Courage Demands Fear

I think there is much to chew on through the movie’s dialogue and scenes, but what has come back in my mind again and again is the heart of courage. False machismo attitudes talk of “no fear” and set expectations that tough men are never frightened. To be frightened is to be weak and ineffectual. But Ottway, the character who has the most self-control and manly virtue, is not shy about telling his fellow prey that he is absolutely terrified. Courage is only really necessary in the face of fear and danger. Ottway, the same man who begins the movie with a gun in his mouth, ready to call it a day, is now compelled to fight back as the hunter (his job was to defend the oil refinery base from wildlife attack) is not hunted.

Standing either side of him in the movie are a man who has faith (Pete) and a man who believes in nothing (John). Ottway sits in the uncomfortable middle, wanting to believe but finding no evidence from his experience to hold to faith. Yet he fights. He has will to survive for the sake of life. He is unwilling to let something else take his life, even if he was close to ending his own.

Fate and Will

This, then, is one of the other major themes that weaves its way through the movie. Are we creatures of destiny, trudging a path of suffering and survival until the curtain finally closes? Or can we take charge and do something? At one point, Ottway is screaming at the sky for help, cursing at God and pleading with Him simultaneously. And as the grey sky stares back silently, he mutters, “I’ll do it myself then.” I don’t agree with Ottway, but I can’t deny the experience people feel when they are in long periods of suffering. The Grey raises a lot of the questions we struggle to answer when people of no faith question our belief in a good God who loves us. It is important for us to think, pray and be ready to respond.

There is much more going on in the movie. I’m particularly grateful for James Harleman’s work through www.cinemagogue.com and here’s his video review of the movie. You can check the written part out here.