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The actor Liam Neeson has become one of the main action figures in Hollywood, starring in such popular films as Taken, Batman Begins, and Gangs of New York. However, while these roles were a bit one-dimensional or short lived in terms of his supporting role, you get to see the full scope of his talents in a powerful and dramatic role in the 2012 film, The Grey. In this fictional drama, we get to see a man pushed to his mental and physical limits and how he is able to come to grips with such weighty topics such as his own mortality and his religious beliefs.
Not only is The Grey a great film when it comes to its views on mortality, religion, and the depths of human nature when pushed to its limits, the cinematography, direction, pacing and setting of the film help make it stand out. There’s something in this film for everybody who is a fan of serious cinema especially when it comes to character backstory, action scenes, and touching moments of vulnerability and camaraderie. The Grey doesn’t sugarcoat anything as well and does not shy away from addressing real life struggles such as depression, a search for meaning, and the futility of having bad luck run roughshod over one’s life.
Man can only control so much in his life and that includes what happens to those who he loves, how he adapts and survives when exposed to the worst elements of nature and of the animal kingdom. Sometimes, the only choice that you have is to fight, persevere, and struggle to the last breath even when things look bleak. Neeson and the other men in the film have to grapple with a lot of bad events that make it a hopeless situation to get out of. There is no choice though and all of them have to do their best to make it out alive especially to the ones they love.
John Ottway, the main character in the film played by Liam Neeson, is a guy you want with you in the oil fields of Alaska. We know little about his backstory in the film, but it is revealed that he struggles with depression, meaning, and his faith in a higher power. He dreams of a woman who is his wife and the audience is not sure if he is still with her, if they divorced each other, or if something fatal has befallen her. We assume that he is in Alaska working as a marksman protecting oil workers from the wolves and that he is doing this job for lack of better options and to preserve some remaining meaning in his life. Part of the brilliance of this film is that it doesn’t reveal everything too quickly about why Ottway is in Alaska or what happened to his wife. The Grey does not ignore the great sense of suspense that can be built up over the course of the film to make a true compelling drama that captures and holds your attention until the end.
Ottway and the other men are facing grey wolves who see them as a threat and it’s not possible for the men to communicate to these wolves that they are friends and not foes. The animal kingdom suffers no man especially when he is in their territory. They can’t communicate with each other so it’s a battle for survival between man and wolf. While the grey wolves in real life are harmless and do not hunt humans, The Grey takes some creative liberties with this fact in order to have a compelling film. Despite the criticism from animal rights groups, if you enter the area of a wolf’s pack den, you are likely asking for trouble regardless if you didn’t mean to do so, man or animal alike.
After a freak plane crash, Ottway and the other oilmen must fend for survival in harsh conditions while they are stalked by wolves including its alpha leader who see the men as threats to be reckoned with. Ottway has killed wolves before to protect the oilmen when they’re working in the fields and he knows what they are like. Against ever increasing odds of survival, he proves to be a great example of how to lead men in times of crisis and peril. His leadership, throughout the film, proves pivotal in giving the men a shot to get out of the Alaskan wilderness and back to their families. Even though it seems at the beginning of the film that Ottway has lost his will to live due to the situation with his wife, the freak plane crash and his survival from it propels him to try and save the men and outwit the wolves if possible.
Still though, The Grey is a serious and realistic film about how far faith will carry you out of a real crisis. There is an underlying atheistic outlook of the movie that may rub some people the wrong way, but I found it to be needed. In life, when you face a tragedy, a crisis, or a perilous event, faith can only do so much, and you have to claw and fight your way out of it. I think The Grey does a great job of showing how important it is to confront your fears, show true leadership, and fight as hard as possible against the odds to make it out alive of a bad and deteriorating situation.
Ottway’s character and his fight against the Alaskan wilderness and the wild wolves is a great metaphor of how each of us is fighting against our own personal demons and against events that are beyond our control in life. We each have a struggle to face and we have to do it on our own. If we have a wife or a crew by our side, that’s a great thing to have but that’s not always the case as it is in The Grey. When you’re put into a bad situation and all hope is lost, you have to truly fight for survival and live like it’s your last day because it might just be.
There’s an excellent quote from The Grey that has a lot of resonance for how true it is regarding life’s fragility—how you have to live like it’s your last day to do the best you can to survive against the odds. “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.” This quote that Liam Neeson’s character recites throughout the film is not only a metaphor for his fight against the wolves and nature, but his fight against depression and to make it through the day when all hope seems lost.
The Grey is a true survival film and it’s excellently directed with a great starring performance by Liam Neeson. I believe it is an extremely underrated film and does a good job of bringing up various themes surrounding hope, faith, loss, and about life’s injustices. If you can check it out, I highly recommend giving The Grey a view. It will be well worth your time.