Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Grey: A Lesson In Survival

The Movie Bible: The Bible is a collection of ancient stories, all themed around humanity’s relationship with God and about how God wants us to live.   What would the Bible look like today if movies were collected around such themes?  I will discuss such movies, giving non-spoiler plots, discussing themes in the film and then drawing a conclusion.

Talk about a bad day.  Liam Neeson is filled with remorse about his life, so he gets a job in the Alaskan wilderness with a whole lot of other ne’er-do-wells.  Feeling trapped and of no use to anyone, he seriously considers suicide, to the point of putting a gun in his mouth (which looks silly, no fashion sense at all).  Coming just off of that brink, he and some of his co-workers were taking a break and heading toward Anchorage.  And then the plane crashes, with only seven survivors.  Thankfully, they have Liam Neeson there to help them survive, to focus on food and warmth and a plan to get out.  And then the wolves attack.

It would be a mistake to see this film as strictly an action film.  It has a number of tense scenes (so much so that my wife laughed at me as I am jumping and whimpering in front of my laptop) and great action moments.  But if you were to see the film as action, then you would end up being disappointed.  Because in the end, this film isn’t about the intensity, but it is a parable about survival—about how we approach life in general.

We are all in the wilderness  working together to survive.  But wolves—crises, traumas and illnesses—attack us, threaten us and try to kill us.  We are all doing our best to survive, in whatever way we know how.  Some of us are better at surviving than others, perhaps because they know that life is about survival and so they have focused just on surviving.  These survivors might help us live as well, but most of us do not focus on surviving.  Some of us survive as long as we do because of the help of others.  Some of us survive because of dumb luck.  And some of us die because of that same luck. 

Some of us have faith in a higher power to save us.  Some believe that from the sky, someone will hear our cry and deliver us from our traumas and crises.  Those that do might lash out in anger because they feel that they shouldn’t have to face a crisis that is more than they can handle.  Others of faith are more accepting of their fate, welcoming crises when they happen.  Some even welcome death, recognizing that the beauty of life is more than enough to make up for one’s inevitable death.  In a sense, these people are strong because they accept death on their own terms, and so they live life on their own terms.

Most of us, though, are about survival.  Keeping alive and thriving as best we can.  We struggle, we persevere, and sometimes we make mistakes.  Our own bodily or mental weaknesses make it difficult to survive, but still we strive.  Sometimes we succeed.  Sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we fight against our wolves, and sometimes we have no fight left to give.  [Spoiler alert—But in the end, it doesn’t matter.  None of us survive.  We all die.  Whether we die with grace, die fighting, die to stupid bad luck, die to personal weakness—in the end we are all dead.  Does it really matter how we live if we all end up the same?]

Of course it does.  Our lives are all we have,  it is our story and our story is, in the end, all we have to give to those who live after us.   Our lives matter not only for our own survival, but the survival of those around us.  And how we live makes the difference between living a good life and a poor one.

The problem with the existential parable of The Grey is that the point of view doesn’t connect to the majority of the movie-watching public.  Most of us don’t see ourselves as survivors, barely alive with wolves attacking us.  The majority of us are thrivers, propped up by a society that has more than ample resources.  The majority of the movie-watching public whine when crises come, wondering “why me” instead of accepting it as a part of life.

To find survivors, one would have to go to the homeless, the desperately poor in other nations.  They understand this film and can see themselves as one of the characters in the parable.  This parable would make sense to (and enflame the emotions of) most people in the ancient world.  But today, the existential point doesn’t make sense to most of us.  We are just disappointed that the film isn’t more of an action thriller.

But the film’s point about life is a good one.  If we don’t see the wolves as a natural part of life, we will just be taken by surprise when they do come.  And, unprepared, we will fail ourselves and those around us.   Life is about living, and living is often about survival.  We cannot survive alone, we cannot survive without hope, we cannot survive without meaning.  What can we do to help ourselves and others survive?

Movie Bible Extra:  
Be a star like Liam Neeson!  Choose mediocre or almost bad films to be a part in, that way you are always the best thing in the film.  Voila!  Instant superstar!


  1. Great perspective on the film. Like you, I found a lot to dig out of this film about facing the trials of life, specifically the inevitability of death. I wish more people would check out this film. It's a front-runner for my biggest surprise of the year.

  2. Thanks "Sam". Now that you are an award winner your praise really means something ;)

  3. Wow! You really found a lot of meaning in this movie. Some bad reviews have kept me from consider renting it now that it's turned up in my video store, but I might change my mind.

    I've also got a weak spot for survival movies, so who knows, maybe I'll turn out to be a fan.