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A Discussion on Joe Carnahan's The Grey

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

Mike “Arthouse” said, It’s a hard thing to strike the perfect balance between art and entertainment. So many young people today don’t have patience for a Bergman movie, and want a movie about punching wolves. So I think it’s nice that Carnahan and Neeson tried to slip in some questions about faith and death.

I agree, it is nice. But the way the film slips in and addresses questions about faith and death matter as well.

@HKfanatic

I think my problem with the film was that the truly standout moments were stacked towards the beginning – this has the most terrifying and realistic plane crash I’ve ever seen on film,…

Yeah, I second this.

After that, though, it felt like the script trotted out the cliches…or at least used the wolves as a way too convenient device whenever they needed to jolt the audience or get the characters moving. After the whole “tree jumping” sequence, I just kind of tuned out.

Again, I agree—although I didn’t “tune out,” but I thought the scene was far-fetched (not a real big deal, though).

@Jerry

Jack said, Hmmm… that depends on what your 11-year-old has seen before. For the average 11-year-old, I’d say no, as there is bloody violence, copious swearing, and sexual references. If they are the kind of 11-year-old I was, then it’s fine ;) (I was only forbidden films that had sex scenes).

I’d agree with that. I’d also add that the ideas and treatment of the ideas might make for a good discussion with an eleven year old, depending on how sophisticated your eleven year old is. I think the film would be a pretty good one to show teenagers, especially if you wanted to have a thoughtful discussion about some of the themes in the film.

@Jack

I want to talk about the film, but at the same time, I think my comments and opinions might seem a little dismissive and superior. I don’t mean to come across that way—and I don’t want to insult you or dampen your enthusiasm for the film. I don’t think the film is bad, by any means, and I do appreciate the injection of serious themes and the use of metaphor in an action thriller. Still, I feel like the wolf as death metaphor is a little cliched. Then again, maybe my reading isn’t accurate.

Basically, the film seems to be about approaching death (maybe more specifically, how we approach life, knowing that we will die?). Neeson’s character cries out to God for an answer. Getting know concrete response, he just faces death head on, eventually arriving at the heart of death. The “wallet altar” signifies a kind of confrontation between humanity/individulality and death. So the film seems to suggest that you face death and the challenges of existence head on, continually (“Once more, into the fray…”). It’s an OK response, but I don’t feel like it’s very profound. (Again, sorry if this is coming across as superior or insulting.) Or maybe, because of my own beliefs, I don’t find the response very satisfying.

Truewon​der

about 2 years ago

To be a major release the film is a huge success, plus it’s very nice to see a film for the old world man that has went through major pussification over the last 10 years. I loved the alpha vs alpha, man vs beast fictional underbelly of the piece. Someone on here claimed the flashbacks were terrible, but to me I ask, What do you think about in life? The wallets of lives gone in the din with him, the wolfs and the bones of there past kills laying about as the final decent or reckoning into faith,death, fate etc begins. I thought this film had many powers fictionally and narratively. Maybe Joe Carnahan has his family in a good place and has decided to stop doing shit and really challenge himself, which brings up even more to me that relates to his film “The Grey”.

Santino

about 2 years ago

I haven’t read over this whole thread yet but off the bat, I don’t understand how this movie is anything more than your typical January studio release. Luc Besson is hit or miss and I would say this film falls somewhere between From Paris with Love and Colombiana. Some of the action sequences were quite compelling (the guy jumping off the cliff to fall into the tree) and the story moved along nice enough that I was never bored. But that’s about it. Neeson was clearly on autopilot, playing the reluctant, master-of-his-profession type that he’s played a thousand times before. And the story was pretty lame. I don’t even mean the “Jaws: The Revenge-type behavior from the wolves” – that shit didn’t bother me at all (it’s a stupid movie for god’s sake!). No, what really took me out of the film was the dumb flashback/backstory with the wife which really took me out of the film – especially the “twist” at the end, which was just a cheap grab at sentimentality to make his death seem a little less devastating. If Carnahan had just stuck to the present situation with these characters and focused on the survival aspect of the film (and the impending doom they will inevitably face), I would’ve been much more impressed with the film.

I’m with Tyler – The Edge is not a great film by any means but at least it has the Mamet dialogue that makes the character dynamic passably more interesting.

Santino

about 2 years ago

“As the film progresses, however, each death becomes more unusual. Two of the final ones in particular were incredibly haunting.”

I didn’t find the deaths to be very compelling at all. In fact, it was all so predictable. In a film like this, you can’t kill off characters the same way. Every death has to be slightly different. So of course not every character will be unexpectedly mauled by wolves. So for me, starting with Dermot’s death falling into the river, the deaths could be seen a mile a way. Thus the suspense was lessened as the film progressed. The guy sitting by the river and saying he can’t go on anymore – that whole seen was tedious. As soon as you see the beautiful shot of the lake and the forest, you know this is where he wants to die. Of course it takes five minutes of dialogue between characters before he actually says “I can’t think of a better place to die” (or something to that effect). I mean, come on! Talk about bad on-the-nose dialogue!

Ditto when the next character falls into the river than gets his foot caught and drowns. Yeah, it was sad that he was so close from coming out of the water but again, there was no suspense because the story was so clearly laid out for you.

Santino

about 2 years ago

“I want to talk about the film, but at the same time, I think my comments and opinions might seem a little dismissive and superior. I don’t mean to come across that way—and I don’t want to insult you or dampen your enthusiasm for the film. I don’t think the film is bad, by any means, and I do appreciate the injection of serious themes and the use of metaphor in an action thriller. Still, I feel like the wolf as death metaphor is a little cliched. Then again, maybe my reading isn’t accurate.”

I agree with this statement from Jazz. I appreciate genre films trying to do something “different” or “challenging” but I don’t see The Grey as doing either of these things. Making wolves symbollic of death is “interesting” I suppose but that doesn’t make it “challenging” (or contemplative about death). Reading over some of the comments from people who saw this film as a deep exploration of death seems a bit odd to me. Is it the impending doom that these character face somehow compelling? And the mere mention of Bergman completely throws me. What exactly is this film saying about death? Specifically, what is so profound about this story or these characters? Is it the fact that there really is an absence of hope, of an underlying acceptance of their fate which makes this film different? I don’t know. I think the fact that they all die in the end felt true to the story. I think it would’ve felt false if a rescue team swooped in at the end and saved them. But is that enough? Is that all you need from generic studio fare to make it worthwhile?

TakaAwe​some

about 2 years ago

@Santino – I don’t know why people are mentioning Bergman, as it doesn’t explore death in the same manner or with as much depth as him. But what I appreciated, I can’t speak for anyone else, is the straightforward and realistic way in which they addressed mortality, death, etc. Especially during the first death sequence, which I honestly found very powerful. I didn’t walk out of the film going “man, that was a deep exploration of death…” But I did think it was refreshingly honest and visceral about how frightening death is and how different people would deal with it. It also addresses the question “what will you think about during your death?” and whether or not that’s important. It’s something I’ve thought about prior to the film and it was cool to see that in a movie. Also, I will support any Hollywood films with atheistic themes/tendencies ;)

Also, I thought Neeson gave a really good performance. And I thought it was crafted well, technically. I felt cold in the theater and I don’t think it was just the poor air conditioning. The atmosphere was relentless and engrossing, the action was well-filmed, especially the plane crash. I was never bored. In summation, I don’t know if it was “challenging,” though I did reflect on mortality/death-related things during and after the movie, it made an impression. But I would certainly call it different than other Hollywood films.

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
almost 2 years ago

A very good movie for what it is. Hooked me completely in, and despite its many flaws (such as the writers never hearing of hypothermia, or misunderstanding the physical trajectory of jumping off a cliff), the film was so much better than many of its peers. I’m not going to compare this film to Bergman or any other misplaced bs, but if you’re someone who enjoys the arthouse as well as the popcorn, on occasion, here’s a film that’s more in between the two than at the bottom.

meg 

almost 2 years ago

such as the writers never hearing of hypothermia, or misunderstanding the physical trajectory of jumping off a cliff

and having no cognizance of what won’t take the weight of a horizontally inverted man across a gaping gorge, nor knowing anything about wolves

I laughed out loud quite often in this phoney balony offering, kind of spoilt any potential for bonding with it

Steve "The Schmuck​" Pulaski

almost 2 years ago

Agree with House of Leaves on this one. There are a few petty flaws, but overall, the film is tense, gripping, and very, very well-shot, including some wonderful scenes of snow and truly poignant scenes where the idea of death is always subtly lurking. As far as films of Ingmar Bergman, I’m young, so I still have to seek them out. Anyone have any ideas on where I should start?

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
almost 2 years ago

Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, then Fanny and Alexander the TV version. If you’re not a fan there, I can’t help ya ;)

Santino

almost 2 years ago

Scenes from a Marriage is the only Bergman film I would say I “love”.

But I’m a Cassavetes guy so this isn’t so surprising.

Steve "The Schmuck​" Pulaski

almost 2 years ago

Thanks, Leaves. Appreciate it very much.

meg 

almost 2 years ago

Yes The Grey looks handsome alright and had it leaned more towards a straight out horror thriller the nonsense on which the narrative was based would not have bothered me, but its pretensions towards a higher arc did not sit comfortably with me beside the absurdities that were falling from Ottway’s lips about wolves, the oversized CGI presentation of said wolves, cliched characters, metaphysical strains and mawkish flashbacks to a lost love and her inspirational wisdoms. I must say I am surprised to see the word “subtle” used in relation to anything to do with the film especially the pall/promise of death.

PoopBut​t

almost 2 years ago

deftwor​ker

almost 2 years ago

Meg: “Yes The Grey looks handsome alright and had it leaned more towards a straight out horror thriller the nonsense on which the narrative was based would not have bothered me, but its pretensions towards a higher arc did not sit comfortably with me beside the absurdities that were falling from Ottway’s lips about wolves, the oversized CGI presentation of said wolves, cliched characters, metaphysical strains and mawkish flashbacks to a lost love and her inspirational wisdoms. I must say I am surprised to see the word “subtle” used in relation to anything to do with the film especially the pall/promise of death.

I agree Meg, this film is meant to stand out from it’s peers with it’s critical look at dismantling genre.
However it’s one-note cynical/atheistic philosophical musings don’t show much of a critical look. They are closer to (but slightly deeper then) the conformist hipster trend in recent years of cynical nihilism in big hollywood films (e.g. the “subversive” big genre pics of Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” and “Inception”).
The film works for a while certainly and offcourse you have the scene where Neeson exposes a member of the groups macho fascade (as merely posturing as a defense mechanism to hide the fear inside) as a highlight.
(Spoilers to come)
However, during the final sections it reveals it’s empty pretentiousness and non-spiritual sentimentality with “Diaz” giving up and his laughable justifications followed by the handshakes. This is preceded by the foreshadowing camp-fire conversation in which atheism (in the form of redundant cynicism) prevails as Diaz’s feelings on the matter are seconded by Neeson’s “Ottway”.
His final cry to the heaven’s for god to help him “now, not later” followed the non-response (no bellowing voice from the heavens to save him then?) is redundant and is finished with the undeniably entertaining but glib “ill do it myself then”.
One track cynicism and dark sentimentality do not make a critically discerning look at the genre.

PoopBut​t

almost 2 years ago

@Deft: First of all, how is “non-spiritual sentimentality” a bad (or good) thing in relation to film? That criticism is as hollow as your claims, and is seemingly of someone who falls in love with his own words rather than actually pointed examination. If anything that is in complete dis-concord with the “hollow prententiousness” that you claim of the film, for it actually examines modern sentiments on death through the perspective of Ottway. To Ottway, like a largely increasing number of real-world (first world) citizens, “religiousness” means little to nothing, for it offers nothing tangible to its believers. This is obviously expressed through his struggle with life after his wife’s death, for her death has no greater significance, and certainly brings him no peace nor well being – just pain and questions. His life is a microcosm of the ever-realized criticism of God/Religion through the “Pain Problem”, which to many, is the biggest sign that the ever-“loving” Monotheistic God that most people on the planet believe in is a crock of shit… And no, this is not my favoritist/best movie ever made, so you can stop that shallow counter-reply.

deftwor​ker

almost 2 years ago

@ Poopbutt. It might portray these “modern sentiments”, however as i pointed out it doesn’t critique them, or even really “examine” them as you say. As for the religious and anti-cynicism stuff, well i already answered that by saying it is “closer to (but slightly deeper then) the conformist hipster trend in recent years of cynical nihilism in big hollywood films”.
There’s no need to be reactionary on what i said. It’s an opinion which i shared which is probably not popular, but certainly has basis. The evidence of that is in what you say about the “microcosm of the ever-realized criticism of God/Religion through the “Pain Problem”, which to many, is the biggest sign that the ever-“loving” Monotheistic God that most people on the planet believe in is a crock of shit…”. The fact that this film easily satisfies that prevalent atheistic (along with the cynical/nihilistic) attitude without really challenging it (examples given in first comment), is why it isn’t something to be taken seriously as a subversive or critical look at genre.
“First things fucking last”, film is an art-form, and therefore “non-spiritual sentimentality” as well as other sociopolitical/cultural issues will be relevant to it. Although i should have replaced it with “hipster nihilist sentimentality”, thanks for giving me the opportunity to correct that.

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

Meg said, I must say I am surprised to see the word “subtle” used in relation to anything to do with the film especially the pall/promise of death.

I know what you’re saying, and I basically agree, but if you look at the comments in relation to the type of film (action/thriller), I think the comments make more sense.

Poop said, If anything that is in complete dis-concord with the “hollow prententiousness” that you claim of the film, for it actually examines modern sentiments on death through the perspective of Ottway.

But what does the film say about modern sentiments on death? What I mostly got was that there are no real answers, but one must toughen one’s self up and keep plugging away at life. I actually kind of liked the use of the poem to express this idea, but isn’t the idea a bit pat?

Similarly, while the “pain problem” is a serious one—even for many believers—the film doesn’t really give believers or God a fair shake. Here, I’m thinking of the way the film bases the non-existence of God and illegitimacy of religion on God’s lack of response when Ottway calls out to him. Many believers also get the same non-response (not to say that God doesn’t actually help or respond in some other way) and aren’t spared suffering and even death. But that hardly proves that God doesn’t exist—or at least it’s not a very compelling or thoughtful response, imo.

TakaAwe​some

almost 2 years ago

@Deftworker – can we just stop using the term “hipster” to describe everything?

deftwor​ker

almost 2 years ago

lol ok no more Takaawesome. Completely agree Jazz, right on the money.

meg 

almost 2 years ago

the film doesn’t really give believers or God a fair shake

Jazz I thought it was implied, if one wants to believe, that he did get a response. After he has called out to God to do something you fraudulent fuck etc then says to the empty silent sky I’ll do it myself, he staggers into the trees bowed down then has the thought about the wallets, and to read his letter again, he is surrounded by a white light from behind if you recall, rather suggestive of spiritual visitation, he has the idea to do the ritual with the wallets which connects him with life and death simultaneously as he looks at the photos of the dead and recalls their stories of their lives, and then he sees the flashback to his childhood and the poem again. These thoughts and images come into his mind unbidden, Ottway might have no thought of them being from beyond but the viewer is invited to consider it as being in response to his plea, and if one is a believer I think it would be easy enough to “see” the presence of divinity with Ottway in those moments, giving him courage “to live and die on this day” and he goes once more into the fray to fight one last good fight. I thought the final scene after the credits implied they were both, wolf and man, breathing their last together.

Whether thoughts come to man solely from man’s psyche or from another realm of course is entirely up to personal belief but I didn’t think the film abandonded hope for the godly, nor had an atheistic ending.

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
almost 2 years ago

Great thoughts, Meg!

meg 

almost 2 years ago

:) I feel better disposed towards it upon reflection, I just get cross and impatient when animals are misrepresented and demonised, and when a film with so much potential is sullied by implausible scenarios and lazy writing…whatever. People have enjoyed it and apparently, have thought of things they haven’t thought of before so it’s all good. And I reckon if I die looking at a scene half as good as Diaz I’ll be content

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

@Meg

I agree with HoL. Those are some interesting thoughts. But they’re wrong. (I’m kidding. ;) Seriously, I think it’s a valid reading, but one that doesn’t really resonate with me (although I probably would have to watch the ending again) Somehow I feel the film draws on more religious elements in the scene (e.g., the white light behind him, the “wallet shrine,” etc.), but does so for secular purposes. In the absence of a belief in God, one might still grasp on religious symbols and rituals.

The idea of “spiritual visitation” is an interesting one, but his state of being doesn’t seem to suggest this to me. If God has answered him then I would expect one or more of the following: 1) that he is saved from death—in some miraculous way or by gaining strength to overcome the wolves; 2) he experiences peace and strength to face death. From what I recall, neither happens. It’s as if he has to draw the strength from himself—which to me is very much in line with an atheistic spirit, as it were—i.e., Life is meaningless? Death is scary? Well, buck up and deal with it! There’s a heroic quality to this attitude, but it can come across as hot air, too.

TakaAwe​some

almost 2 years ago

Personally, I’m GLAD this film didn’t waste much time dealing with God or spirituality. That was one of it’s strengths imo. It was focused for the most part on a complete lack of such a concept from what I remember until the end, when Neeson calls out to the sky. I actually think it would’ve been better had he not even done that. And Jazz, I don’t think it’s fair to say the atheistic spirit dictates that life is meaningless. There’s certainly not a universal/inherent meaning – but it seems like you’re implying an atheist cannot find personal meaning in one’s own life, which I disagree with completely. And sure, to someone who believes that after death there is nothing, that does make death a frightening concept (to me anyway) and I think the film capitalizes on this very well. And within the context of Neeson’s situation at the end of the film, I don’t think his drawing upon inner strength and facing death should be categorized as hot air. I can’t imagine the immense amount of strength and will it would take to do what he did in the film, assuming I was placed in his shoes/in that situation.

meg 

almost 2 years ago

well you know if he just stomped into the woods grimly determined, lips snarled in cynicism and started on practical matters like setting traps, getting more sticks ready or whatever I’d say it was a definite “you’re on your own bucko” ending…but that interlude is there and appears to suggest a bridge between his rage at the empty sky and a different state of being. of course if one believes in a moneistic god who takes a personal interest in mankind’s affairs (I don’t) then something more concrete around his reconciliation to acceptance of that will be hungered for

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

@Taka

It was focused for the most part on a complete lack of such a concept from what I remember until the end, when Neeson calls out to the sky.

I recall that the film hints at this prior to the end. (Don’t the characters explicitly talk about death and God earlier?)

And Jazz, I don’t think it’s fair to say the atheistic spirit dictates that life is meaningless. There’s certainly not a universal/inherent meaning – but it seems like you’re implying an atheist cannot find personal meaning in one’s own life, which I disagree with completely.

I wasn’t very clear here, but that’s not what I meant. I don’t think the atheism says that life is meaningless. Rather, my sense is that the atheist’s position is either a) the individual can forge their own meaning; b) press, meaninglessness be dammed! Imo, these positions can come across as empty platitudes. It’s easy to say, but really difficult to really live by this. Now, if the film really did a good job of establishing that Ottway really did have this strength—if he earned it in the course of the film—I think the ending and the film itself would be effective and much more than hot air. But, personally, that wasn’t the case for me.

meg 

almost 2 years ago

I actually think it would’ve been better had he not even done that

well it’s all about doing a horror/thriller/action film without the usual flippancy towards death and an absence of any cognizance of matters spiritual isn’t it? if you cut that out and the campfire musings about faith and “where are the guys that died, I know where they are they’re nowhere” etc then it would become an entirely different film with no striving towards gravitas and pleas to be taken seriously (and then its flaws and absurdities would not have been so annoying to me…:)

@Tak I kind of think it strives to establish its bonafides as a vehicle with a deeper purpose at around the 20 minute mark when much time and pathos is taken up in Ottway talking the guy through his death in the plane and yes there are references to faith vs meaningless before the “appeal to the sky” scene

TakaAwe​some

almost 2 years ago

@Jazz

Yeah, you’re correct – the characters do discuss God/death prior to that scene. But from what I remember, Ottway himself doesn’t have a personal struggle with God at all until that scene we’re talking about, and even then it’s not really a struggle, but more an expression of frustration.

How is the position that an individual can forge their own meaning an empty platitude? I can understand saying that “pressing on, meaninglessness be damned” could be empty, but…

I think the film establishes Ottway’s arc very well. I mean, we’re introduced to him when he’s literally at rock-bottom, gun-barrell in his mouth, ready to blow his own brains out. At the intro, his life, his death, none of it means anything and he’s about to submit and kill himself, yet he chooses not to. Juxtapose that with the end of the film and I think his relationship with death is quite different. At both the beginning and end, he is facing death – but his state of mind is vastly different.

My friend and I were talking after we saw this in theaters and I said to him, half sarcastically, half seriously – “Man, if I were placed in that situation, I might just let myself die…” Because it was so overwhelmingly bleak and without hope. The fact that Ottway is a suicidal character and still decides to press on throughout the duration of the film is a testament to a) his strength and b) his anger. He is angry at nature for trying to take away his choice to live or die. And he is angry up until that scene where he shouts to the sky. After that point, there is a transformation.

Anyway, I’ll have to watch the film again as I’ve only seen it the one time in theaters, months ago. But this is kind of how I remember things.

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

@Meg

…but that interlude is there and appears to suggest a bridge between his rage at the empty sky and a different state of being

I think that’s a valid point.

of course if one believes in a moneistic god who takes a personal interest in mankind’s affairs (I don’t) then something more concrete around his reconciliation to acceptance of that will be hungered for

I’m not expecting an audible voice from God or some supernatural force killing the wolves, if that’s what you mean by concrete. Something along the lines of receiving peace or acceptance and even some other indication that there is a larger or greater meaning to his dying, perhaps. (This would probably have to be conveyed in the acting.) Have you seen the film Of Gods and Men? That’s a film about faith and spirituality in the face of death. The presence of God and spiritual effects are subtle, and the movie earns those moments, imo (unlike this film.)