To begin with, don’t let your children near this movie. It’s got heavy swearing, talk about sex, Neeson-grade violence, a good deal of scary tension, and some seriously dark subject matter. That said, it was an interesting watch.
The Grey stars Liam Neeson as a man sent to the frontier of Alaska to kill wolves who threaten oilfield workers. He camps out in the snow and snipes them as they charge out from the brush. Sounds unlikely, but what do I know? At any rate, we find out early that he has some serious issues with depression, and has flashbacks to lying in bed with some woman, presumably his wife. He writes a letter to her, and keeps it with him. From here on out, be forewarned, there are spoilers.
Neeson and the workers board a plane heading to some place less insanely cold. While he rereads the letter, a very annoying individual interrupts him in a manner that makes you think he will be important. He will not. Almost immediately the plane crashes and we are confronted with an unbelievable amount of carnage. Neeson, being Neeson, gets up, stays calm, and saves as many as he can, which ends up being about a half dozen. One man in particular is dying, and our hero comforts him by telling him just to give in, to imagine some loved one is coming to take him away, and to let death slide over him. We are told it is warm, but something in Neeson’s face makes this look like a lie.
I won’t bother introducing you to any of the supporting characters. They are interesting, and contribute to the story and its themes in various ways, but you can get the point quite well without them.
Soon enough Liam Neeson and his band of misfits discover that they are being stalked by wolves. At first Neeson says they might be passing through. When the pack returns, he says they are probably in the wolves’ territory and should try to get out. The wolves get aggressive, people die, and the survivors make a run over the ice and snow towards a distant tree line. Before they do, our hero collects all the wallets of the crash victims to be returned to their families.
The rest of the movie involves a back and forth as the pack picks off the people, and the people hack away at the pack. It is slow going, difficult, and they are vastly outnumbered, outclassed, and outsmarted in the harsh environment. Whether from the weather, the wolves, or despair, everyone dies during the chase, until only Neeson is left. Anguished, he cries out to God, demanding a sign, demanding deliverance. God is silent, so Neeson says he will do it himself. He keeps going until he ends up in a clearing scattered with bones and ringed with wolves. Throughout the entire movie, they had been moving towards the den.
But Neeson, unlike most of the others, does not panic. Unlike some, he does not simply give in. He piles all the wallets and the letter (to his wife, who we now know was dying in those flashback scenes) into a little shrine, and prepares to fight. He duck tapes a knife to one hand and broken bottles from a minibar to the other fist. The alpha wolf comes towards him, growling, and Neeson meets him. Here, the movie ends.
Basically, the whole movie can be summed up as “Life sucks and everyone will died horribly, but why not take a few with you while you go?” The movie starts with our hunter nearly committing suicide, but staying alive when he hears the cry of the wolf. The movie ends with a suicidal battle against a wolf. In between, everyone who fights the wolves is proven too scared or too stupid or too weak to prevail. But they keep going.
During this time, Neeson leads the dwindling group of survivors, constantly telling them what they must do to keep themselves alive. But he offers them no real hope. Everything he tells them to do is a slim-chance, last-ditch effort to escape the wolves a little bit longer, which really doesn’t matter since no one is looking for them and the elements will kill them anyways. He is just comforting them, offering delusions so they don’t have to give up. And in the end, when they have all died, he discovers he has been leading them into the very heart of the territory they were trying to escape.
The world of The Grey is dark, bloody, and unforgiving. There is no hope, and very little reason to live. I say “very little,” because there is one scene where each of the men recounts stories of their families and loved ones. And, Neeson repeatedly tells us that we are to imagine that it is they who lead us away at death. Of course, the one time we see such a phantom do this, the illusion is shattered by the brutish reality of ripping, tearing wolf jaws. Even this bit of happiness is an ephemeral lie.
After the credits, for a brief moment, we see Neeson resting his head on the wolf, which is presumably breathing its last. Other internet denizens say they saw Neeson twitch. I’m not sure I did. But even such a “resurrection” is no Gospel theme. In this movie, the world is godless, and it hates us.