Last night I watched The Grey. The IMDb synopsis says of the film, “After their plane crashes in Alaska, six oil workers are led by a skilled huntsman to survival, but a pack of merciless wolves haunts their every step.” Liam Neeson plays Ottway, the huntsman. As the group works their way through the snowy Alaskan wilderness trying to survive the terrain and the onslaught of a violent pack of wolves there are two “theological” scenes that caught my attention and thoughts.
First, as the group sits around discussing the possible reality of their deaths there are some who take hope in some sort of post-mortem existence and there is one who mocks any such idea. Ottway says he wants to believe but the thing he knows to be real is the cold, the snow, the wilderness, and all that is right in front of him. Diaz (Frank Grillo) argues that when you close your eyes there is nothingness. The others seems to hope for something more “Christian” if you will. And this is what I found fascinating: the fight seemed to be between a Christian-like worldview or a rejection of that worldview. There was no “transmigration of souls,” no reincarnation, no Nirvana. There was a destiny to obtain: either nothingness (not of the Hindu or Buddhist type) or afterlife. When someone crossed the threshold of death they arrived at their destiny.
I find that this is usually the mode of discourse when we speak of religion and afterlife in the United States. I don’t know how it is elsewhere but for most their acceptance or rejection of existence after death is often the acceptance or rejection of something like a Christian presentation of the afterlife. In The Grey no one proposes another option.
Similarly, in another scene Ottway screams at the grey sky telling “God” that if he will do something, anything, then he will believe he exists and he will give him the rest of his life. The eery scene to follow includes silence, other than natures’ howl, and that same grey sky seemingly starring back at him. Finally, Ottway says he will do it (survive) himself and he continues the journey.
Again, there seems to be a Christian or non-Christian theology here. Either God is personal, hearing, and active (which is not exclusively Christian, obviously, but our culture seems framed by a Christian version), or he doesn’t exist. Some pantheist may say that grey sky and the snow upon which Ottway sits is “god.” This god may be impersonal, but it is a god none-the-less. Whatever we call “the One” (as in Platonic or Buddhist philosophy) could exist with no desire or ability to “save.”
For Christians the film is another reminder of the problem of theodicy. We assume our God to be good, all-powerful, all-knowing. Some Christians may remove omnipotence or omniscience, but most Christians hold all three in tension and a tension it is. How does God allow someone to look into the sky calling on him without responding if he is able? Even in the Book of Job the story ends with God making an appearance. God doesn’t explain himself, but neither is he silent.
This haunting film is a good one, especially when considering matters related to life, death, suffering, and the place of humans in nature. The theology of the film is a “side-bar,” but an excellent one. At least for me it was.
This scene sounds like the movie, “The Sunset Limited”. These movies are written on a rejection of Christ or acceptance of Christ view since that’s what westerners know. Liam is acting like doubting Thomas there isn’t he? Gotta see to believe.
“In The Grey no one proposes another option.”
That’s because the other options are too ridiculous to be seriously entertained.
I’ve been tempted to see this movie, though I haven’t yet. I’m not surprised about the religious undertones in it. There is sufficient evidence to suggest Hollywood doesn’t look favorably on Christianity, and can’t quite resist the temptation to critique it.
While Ottway claims that what is “real” is the cold, wolves, what is in front of him, etc. – as viewers we see that this isn’t true. What is most real for him is the longing for his wife, the love he has for her, and the loss he feels. None of those are “real” in the way he describes around the fire, but they compel him more than anything else.
Indeed, the character is very Thomas-like.
I didn’t feel like this film critiqued Christianity (anymore that the Book of Job or news of famine coming from the Horn of Africa critiques Christianity), but the main character does seem quite agnostic, though oddly willing to “believe” if he sees a sign from God.
Excellent and true observation.
People (and characters) say that, but God did give a sign. He came, performed miracles, including raising people from the dead, and then was crucified yet somehow this isn’t sufficient.
Agreed, I see this as God’s answer as well. Of course, that doesn’t remove the intensity of a moment when you want God to intervene in your life and all we hear is silence. Christ gives ultimate meaning, but sometimes that is hard to see in the moment, even for a Christian.
We’re going to watch this tonight. I’ll be thinking of your review as I do, Brian. Thanks.
You’re welcome. You’ll have to let me know your thoughts when your done.
We just finished. That was very depressing and hopeless. Yeah, I think your review covered the worldviews in the movie well. I think Ottaway’s (sp?) philosophy fit into existentialism as well (esp. when he spook of the real being the cold hitting his face etc.). Then there was wishful thinking, obviously on the part of at least the one guy. But all in all it was pretty much garden variety paganism; I barely caught anything else … maybe an underlying naturalism, in fact that might have been the most predominate view presented. There also seemed to be an ethereal belief about the after-life, and some sort of veiled hope that seemed to be a projection that was conjured up by those facing their demise.
This movie is not what I expected when I originally saw the previews for it.
I was surprised by it as well. A co-worker spoiled the ending for me the day I watched it, but I found it to depart from how I imagined the film would end. The worldviews portrayed in the film were what grabbed my attention the most. I think you capture them well. This life-or-death survival setting is an interesting back drop for the scenes I mentioned.
You’re right about the setting; very survival of the fittest. So I guess the setting helps to confirm the notion that a neo-Darwinian theme was present in the mind of the author, especially given the character development throughout the movie.
I loved that movie. It scared me more than any other movie I’ve seen in the theatre in a long time. Those wolves were terrifying. I didn’t see Ottway as an agnostic… I thought his angry speech at God revealed someone who believed in God but wanted more from him. And, with all the death piling up everywhere, I think that would be a common thing to ask for… assurance of his presence. I think Ottway’s agnosticism was all talk. Interestingly, I read an interview with the director who said that he purposely left the movie so you could “read” it as an atheist movie or a Christian one. “Like real life.” Ha!
I saw Ottway as a semi-hopeful agnostic. I think the screaming at God was done as a last ditch effort to allow “God” to prove his existence. That said, I agree, this movie does a good job being in between atheism and theism and allowing the viewer to think about these two options.
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