Starring Liam Neeson, Dermont Mulroney, and Frank Grillo
“Dealing” with Death
Many films in recent time depict the violent collision of man and nature (as if we ever were truly at odds with it in the first place). The Grey, in many ways, rather than simply offering an action packed narrative, tries desperately to use this cold struggle as a discussion on the inevitability of death and the various ways contemporary men deal with it. I say “men” and literally meaning male, because the only death we see of a woman is in such striking contrast to what the males face. This ”dealing” is stretched over two hours of claustrophobia in the most open of wilderness.
The story centers on a broken anti-hero, ready for suicide, named Ottman (Liam Neeson), who awakes to the bloody aftermath of a plane crash in the frozen wilderness of Alaska. His companions are a collection of oil-rig ruffians who fill all the prototypical clichéd roles we often see in fellowship movies on a quest.
|Photo by Kimberly French|
And thus begins a sort of Jets-versus-Sharks movie, only one of the gangs didn’t just barely survive, hitting the tundra at 400 miles an hour without food or guns or any other truly worthwhile survival supplies. Not to mention it was on the turf of a gang of dogs the size of men (still difficult to truly imagine), who are also, in nearly every way, physically superior to man, especially in this environment.
The writing is definitely on the wall quite early on and the foreshadowing doesn’t disappoint, doesn’t deliver a miracle, nor provide a respite from the existential uneasiness the film conveys.
The Power of Liam Neeson
The Grey definitely provides reasons to go out of your way to watch it, not the least of which is Liam Neeson. He once again shows his subtlety in character development and never overdoes it. Always powerful, he often takes a back seat to watch the heat and flash of the other characters, which gives them space to develop in a very short amount of time. With occasional lapses in script quality, mainly due to believability, Neeson ushers forth the text with a gravitas that few of his contemporaries could muster.
Silence as a Sound
On equal footing with Neeson’s acting is The Grey’s treatment of sound design and its cinematic depiction of the cold northern territories. It engages you in unique, beautiful ways and one is struck in particular by the moments of silence. They happen at the right time and bring with it both horror and a haunting certainty that for once humanity’s hubris holds no sway. One gets the feeling that this silence was to be a supportive beam in the architecture of the narrative, and it was indeed successful.
The Philosophical Conundrum of a Recommendation
The Grey is not for everyone, but not just because of its vulgarity, violence, and intense situations. In one corner will be moviegoers who see the addition of philosophical ideas in what should be a simple survival movie as tiresome and pedantic. How dare we go to the movies to think! In the other corner will be those who find these philosophical ideas intriguing, but are surprised by the fact that redemption is mysteriously absent and will grow confused and disillusioned by the sequence of events that befall the seven survivors. It asks questions but delivers no answers, and thank goodness. It is sometimes a strange joy to see a movie that brings with it terrible quiet, horrific beauty, and the truth that humans are still fragile.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Eric Barnum is a choral composer and director, currently teaching at The University of Wisconsin -Oshkosh. He is currently in the process of completing his DMA from the University of Washington under the direction of Dr. Geoffrey Boers. In addition to his love for music, he loves philosophy, theology, food, and beer. More content from Eric can be found at http://ericwilliambarnum.wordpress.com/ or at http://ewbmusic.com/