Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 5, 2012

Watching The Grey

Watching “The Grey“…my wife would probably say this is best done in the mirror… over time… as her hair dye fades and her “roots” start to show. Given that I’m prone to watching her anyway, I’d tend to agree.

But what about the movie? “Ah… that’s a different story.” Sure, but the ending is just about as unsurprising. Even asks the same question my wife does: “What are you staring at?”

In short, the story focuses on a group of oil workers up in the arctic regions whose plane ices over and crashes leaving a few survivors. These folks think their job is to survive, but we know better. Like those horrid previews for the youth-targeted fright flicks we don’t watch, the purpose of random cast members in the genre is to disappear. One-by-one is the preferred mode, but usually we have to do some sort of random self-revelation first. Tried and tiresomely true. “The Grey” is no exception: Each character gets his minute or two of reflection in time for lunch… okay, it’s a wolf’s lunch, but the idea is the same. This continues until the food’s all gone and the movie thankfully ends.

Now having I.D.’ed the M.O., let me make my own self-revelation before I become lunch: I missed seeing this in the theaters and looked forward to seeing this sometime on DVD in the summer. Part of me missed the theater presentation purposely due to the preference for a “chill” in summer over the winter time buzz. After all, I’m no fan of the cold. But equally true: I think the mass audience knew better that this one was a real downer, and just avoided it. And theater owners everywhere sent it back for something a little less bleak. Dickens could write “Bleak House” because folks already knew and loved the characters he loved and drew at length. They knew their hearts would be warmed. Modern creative sensibilities somehow seem to lack this unspoken respect for the audience…. and the audience can in fact, sense this disdain.

Does it help that the movie dwells on the personal tragedies within the story a bit? No. There’s the bit of finality that death is still death, and for all it’s pretense to addressing bigger questions, the reality that death is over seems to be a problem the script writer doesn’t want to really let go of. Put another way, the possibility that life may not end at death is a notion he toys with but in the end seems unprepared to consider. Adolescent at best, it never rises to a more adult view that the complexities of death impose on our previously assumed simplistic understanding of life… as though one touches the other as it does. And in this, the Grey and so many like it are simply brittle and belittling. Maybe the writer views simply that the dead affect the living, or that they help the living prepare for their own death? Not sure. That seems too coherent to fairly conform one view on to the group of supposedly varied individuals in the film (and it’s audience). And that’s about as much depth as I can find here.

And so we’re left with some puzzling wonders expressed towards “The Almighty”. As if. The existential question Liam Neeson’s character and some of the others address to the void… is after all, addressed without belief and in a way that presumes nothing and merits no response. I don’t like it per se, but I can accept this. Death approaches both those who believe and those who do not with equal and undistinguished callousness. But is it really likely that a moment near death after much suffering that one really has as an empty and existential wonder about the nature of things as expressed here? I’ve been dealing with both believers and unbelievers in the approach of their deaths these many months, and it seems in both there is far more complexity. The old appeal: “If you’re up there, come down here and save me and I’ll believe forever” may be part of this journey, but scarcely more than the start.  The call for a fixer upper… “Yeah, I’m talking to you… yeah, you screwed up, so get down here and fix it” appeal to the Almighty is at least honest and at least as new as every life that takes breath. But in truth, it ignores everything about the revelation of God as far back as the Book of Job, and it surely trivializes the heart of the man who utters it as ice cold. Silence would have been better. God appears to Job, and marvels at His creatures in their wildness… and loves them… even as in their freedom, they throw off the yoke and do the unexpected, the wild, the natural things that they do… not in obedience to some natural law, but timed to their own sense. And so as I think of it, watching this film leaves me more eager to read of St. Seraphim of Sarov and his life.

Which leads my own wondering to Liam Neeson. I don’t follow the celebrity world… in fact, I rather make a point of keeping it as much beyond my radar as possible. I don’t know what is going on his life, nor need I. Give the man his due. And yet the one thing I have been unable to forget about Neeson is the death of his wife… and in case you tried to forget about it, it seems as though every movie he’s made since has been about his unrelieved grief, loneliness, despair. Fine and good. As a viewer, I’m not making the case that he has to go off into the LaLa Land of Disney Happy movies, but maybe a sense of gravitas alone, maybe a sense that life is more varied and neither entirely happy nor entirely grief-stricken would showcase more of Neeson’s talents and depth. These days, even cartoons do less sleep walking in one mode and offer a more rounded view of life. I know Hollywood usually likes to think of our dreary lives as hopeless, miserable and pointless, what with our lack of ability to pay for drugs, cars, and fast women…. but to keep hitting on that theme with one movie after another gets tiresome. Maybe… just maybe even Neeson might consider memorializing the humor and love that surely his wife lived in some measure during her time rather than the self-indulgent grief he felt on her repose? Yes, I love that he offers a different character than many in tinsel town, but while I have not walked in his shoes, I think it might just be getting on to the time when we should look for something different. He offers this once in the film in easing one fellow traveler’s journey into eternity, but even that remains a tad empty… even pagans had more tenderness and reverence than the scripts allow him.

Ear has not heard, nor eye seen the Glory of God in His fullness – at least not in this film. The Grey is about the emptiness… and like all films, this is an illusion that nevertheless leaves an indelible imprint on the iris as though it might fool the soul as well. My wife walked out at the beginning. Like Neeson’s character… I kept thinking there was more and stuck it out. There’s room for a film somewhere about a man who finds the fullness of Life in the emptiness of suffering, persecution and death… maybe something about the New Martyrs or some such. This was not it, and I wish I’d joined her.


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