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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Grey: the movie's deeper meaning between black & white


If you haven't seen it yet, all you need to know about the movie The Grey is that 59-year-old Liam Neeson fights off gray wolves with broken airline liquor bottles taped to his hands. But the screenplay, written by director Joe Carnahan and Ian MacKenzie Jeffers (who also wrote the book from which the movie is based), is much deeper than that. And that's where the SPOILERS begin!

Jeffers' book is titled "Ghost Walker" which all but proves my theory -- my theory that this film doesn't take place in the Alaskan wilderness, there is no plane crash, the wolves are a "test" of his faith, and Liam Neeson is already dead. 

My theory is that The Grey is purgatory.

The movie starts with John Ottway (Liam Nesson) contemplating suicide, a choice he consciously decides against -- or so we think. As the movie progresses there are three or four distinct times he could have actually died, leaving this world and entering a realm of purgatory where his faith is tested before moving on to the afterlife.

Throughout the film we also get glimpses inside Ottway's memories, including the repetitive vision of his wife lying next to him in bed, reminding him to "not be afraid" (we later learn that this is actually a hospital bed -- but can't tell which of them is sick). And we get a flashback to his job as a gray wolf assassin, protecting his fellow oil-riggers from attacks. It's a job he despises.

Jumping ahead, post-brutally-realistic plane crash, Ottway eases a victim's death by informing him to just relax, "it'll slide over you, it'll feel nice and warm." Strangely descriptive for any living soul to know without experiencing for themselves. His fellow survivors are equally curious.

Later that night the first group of gray wolves attack their "camp." Coincidentally, these are the exact predators that Ottway has become an expert on through his experiences and research for his job. The wolves continue to attack an unrealistic number of times as the days go on (something animal-rights activists are howling over), killing the survivors off one-by-one. Now it could just be that this is a Hollywood action film, but I would like to give it more credit than that. Maybe this is our first hint that these animals aren't real, the entire experience in fact is part of Ottway's "test."

And then there's Ottway's father's poem -- revealed during a deep conversation of faith, religion, and the after-life amongst the survivors:
Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I'll ever know.
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day.
I fully expected it to end with "... the grey." And when it didn't, the red flag was raised. So what is "The Grey" then? It can't just be a reference to Ottway's grey beard, can it? And grey wolves are actually "gray" wolves -- with an "A" not a "E". Which got me thinking...

Grey is the color between white and black, between life and death, between heaven and hell. The Grey is purgatory.

40 comments:

Offwhite said...

Awesome movie and very good viewpoint. Makes sense.

The cursing and sense of doubting faith may have led him to that Den. He decided to move on alone. It led him ultimately to forming a cross with the wallets signifying faith at time of judgment. His fate is left with only our own conclusions. Excellent movie.

Anonymous said...

Alright dude the only reason im even commenting on this is because I always hated that kid in english class that would find symbolism in a character going to the bathroom. The title does not refer to purgatory it is reference to the grey wolves. The species. I also dont get why this is so hard to comprehend. In a quick summary the movie was about taking man out of his element and watching him break down to his basic instict... similar to a pack of wolves. Liam neeson suggests they stick together like a pack. Then frank grillo (diaz) who did an awesome job by the way challenges Liam Neeson (otto-somethin or nother) and fights him coincidently right after the omega attacks diaz and liam neeson explains the fighting noises of the alpha male fighting for another for control of the pack. Listen I barely got through high school and excuse my poor spelling but dont look so deep into things... then more or less post these things on the internet giving student in college or highschool bad ideas to post on a reading the film paper.

Ryan Pratt said...

Thanks. I agree with a lot of what you said. Except that "The Grey" refers to the wolves. "Grey wolves" are not an animal. "Gray wolves" are animals. The "grey wolves" with an "E" is actually an ultra-nationalist, neo-fascist, youth organization accused of terrorism. How do you explain a multi-million dollar movie and production studio (Scott Free Productions) to make a $7-an-hour copy-editor's mistake like that? There has to be a hidden meaning there. It can't just be a typo. So if it doesn't refer to the wolves -- and I admit, the very symbolic wolves -- what does "The Grey" refer to?

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Anonymous said...

Excellent review. Although I see the movie as a "living" purgatory. The wolfs were what ultimately lead him to salvation, and the cross that he made with the wallets before fighting the Alpha male was his way of finally showing his belief in a higher power. The wanting, and NEED to believe, right before you move on.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you review. I just watched "The Grey" and I walked out of the theater wondering if the film was in purgatory. I have not read the short story, Ghost Walker, that the film is based upon, but read the term ghost walker refers to one who helps the soul of those who can't move on to migrate to the next realm. I think its a film that can be appreciated on several levels, including the purgatory interpretation.

Anonymous said...

Bang on - I googled "ottway dying in hospital bed" immediately after I watched the movie. That's what I gathered from the last scene, and that's how I found your post.

My suspicion started after the second encounter with the wolves, when their eyes all shine in the dark, I thought, how cheesy and phony. Why the realistic (mostly) plane crash, just to have this bizarre, pretend wolf scene. It was at that point that I said to my wife, "this is one of those Jacob's Ladder or Adrien Brody films where he's dead or dying, and this is his journey". But conformation didn't come until the last scene when he's dying in bed, with his wife comforting him, as the wolves finally take him. Pretty good tale. Must've been tough for Liam Neeson to make.

Oh, and excellent theory on the death scene where Neeson's character tells the dying man it will slide over him - great observation.

Okay, good talk, see you out there.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this movie a second time. May 2012. I think his wife died of cancer so young and she left him, meaning she died. He is lonely without her, no purpose, and then the plane crash happens. He confronts whether he wants to live or die. His letter was sort of a last letter to his wife, because he was contemplating suicide before the plane crash. I really think he kills the alpha male because if you watch all the credits, the very last scene is the last breath of the black alpha male. I think he is found in the end with the watch . GPS watch. I am convinced this is what the writer is telling. Life and death on this day means you chose life or death each and every day.

Can said...

Hi

First of all i really really like your website,how nice that you wanted to get into the deep level of the movie..

And what i understood from the movie though,i agree most of your ideas,resarches about the movie,but i think he is not death,and her wife died of cancer,and yes it is a final test for him,that he needs to understand people that we love,will pass soon no matter how you push harder,no matter how you try they will pass,and what is important is how will you deal with it,you now as the movie progress we see so many times Johh Ottway try to save lifes and try to escape,survive but basicly he was going straigth to death,coz they were running to the Wolf's den,while they think they were running away from them you know..
And in someway he couldnt passed the test coz he was angry to God he couldnt understand again,he couldnt read why this happens to him again and again,first his wife and now all these deaths.

im a guy from Turkey so sorry for my spelling but i really like your website and the hidden meaning about the GREY word detail was amazing thank you for that i totally agree

Anonymous said...

I like the purgatory angle. Watching it for the first time today, I think the whole point of the story is about overcoming the fear of death. At the beginning of the movie, the main character does not want to live, but he is afraid to die - he can't pull the trigger. Throughout the movie, the main character's wife, who is deceased, appears to him numerous times telling not to be afraid. The injured passenger from the plane who is mortally wounded is at first afraid to die, but when he accepts it he dies peacefully. I had read reviews where people were somehow insulted by the main character "calling out God" has obviously never read Psalms. The author, commonly thought to be David, constantly calls out God; and complains about not receiving an answer. The scene where Ottoway calls out God is actually a sign of faith. Who would talk to a God that they didn't believe in? And, his prayer is answered, although not in the way some moviegoers would want. God does not come down and slay the wolves and give him a clear path back to civilization. Instead, he gives him the gift of acceptance, the acceptance of his own life and more importantly his own death. In the final scene, he is no longer afraid of death. He has accepted his wife's death, and is ready to join her, or live the rest of his life without her. Whether he lives or dies at the end isn't importatnt. He has overcome his fear.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. And if you notice when ever he has a dream of his wife with him, laying in bed. He is always ripped away from her, and something bad always happens.

Anonymous said...

Good point of view

Anonymous said...

Where exactly would we find the book?

Anonymous said...

Spot On! I had the same thouhts, only it looked as though Liams head was laying on the Wolfs body (To the right of that brief 2 or 3 second clip). Im thinking he maybe defeated the angel of death or his doubts or whatever to earn his "passage"

jclyde said...

I have a little different take on the movie and would be interested in what you guys think?

Instead of purgatory, I got the impression he is still alive, dying in the hospital presumably from a disease like cancer. I envision the "survivors" of the crash as parts of his personality...faith, anger and fear, logic and reasoning, etc.. For me the film is him going through the final stages of death, wrestling with these different aspects of his personality, being stripped down to his very core.
For example, Diaz for me represented fear and anger, it very much threatens to take over, to take control, but in the end...perfectly illustrated in the movie, it just fades away. Like the dialogue states, there is no use for it anymore. A useless emotion/ emotions when you are that close to giving up the ghost.
I found it very interesting/ symbolic how each of these things died...very few actually were eaten by the wolves...Black Guy I think was memories and regrets, he was always sort of 'out of it' and died from the cold, Faith, man with the glasses.. (blind faith/ holding on) ultimately could not hang on. The last guy who drowns in the river, Logic and Reason, is drowned out by the great unknown that is death.
If you have ever watched a parent/ grand parent go through the final stages of death, i imagine this is what it must be like.
I think the moments with his wife, are those brief moments of lucidity that people experience as they hover on the edge of death.
As to the title, the Grey is this in between state of the light of life and the darkness that is death. Whether something waits for him beyond this final confrontation, purgatory or something else, in the end he has to face this inevitability, stripped down to the very essence of his soul.
I haven't described my thoughts all that well, certainly much more to it than this but wanted to pose my theory. Regardless of the interpretations, this movie was absolutely genius.

Tim and Maria said...

Wow. Ok, my husband and I just saw the movie. Then we read all these comments. Very interesting. Until I read these comments, I just saw a movie of someone sad about his wife's death and trying to survive in the wild after a plane crash. I did find it curious when Liam said "It will feel warm and will just wash over you." How would he know? But, I did witness my mother's recent death and it was quiet, calm and uneventful except for the spark that suddenly shone in her eyes (dull before due to pain meds) just as she took her last breath. THAT was beautiful to see. Being a firm believer in Jesus and what the Bible says about passing on, I know her spirit exited her body and was then in the presence of the Lord. She may even have seen angels as her father did at his passing. He told her (and she told me) he saw them coming through the window and that they looked like children. So, I am not afraid of death. And would also tell someone of the two events I personally know of. That he is already dead is a "do do do do" kind of thing for me since I do not believe in a purgatory AT ALL. If I were in a situation like that, I sure would be sharing my most important thoughts too, as they did. I don't believe wolves would ever track people as they portrayed in the movie. Possibly if they were starving, maybe. God has put in animals a "fear" of man. I am glad they added the VERY last credit scene. Liam is resting on the dying wolf. He may or may not have survived. But, he won because he killed the alpha. But again a wolf would have to feel very threatened or be starving to attack a human like they did. Interesting movie leaving lots of food for thought for sure. I want to read what the author actually wrote and why.

Anonymous said...

I thought the movie had no point at first i thought it was just a survival story all set in the one time and didnt understand why the directors didnt show the audience what happened to the main character (did he survive) . but when i read this i realised all of the story was the main characters halocination while he was lying in a hospital bed dying, symbolising his fight for life and faith asking himself if he was ment to die . He said at the start all he wanted was to be lying next to his gilfriend it really ment that he was in another world in this halocination and he wanted to die being by her side. Its so amazing that their are so many messages about faith like said in other comments, while you are entertained and scared of the events in the movie . I think the people that dont think that the move was purgatory miss out on the most amazing learning and elightment. And its proven by so many things in the movie that you can easily miss by being narrow minded that it is purgatory. And in the end it didnt need to be explained if he died or not because it was a story of his halocination and the halocination stoped when he decided to fight back against the wolves or fight back against death. The poem in the film also set the message that people will live and die but the difference between if people live and die fufilled and happy is if they push themselves to know they did everything they could to get to heven before they die. One of the best movies i have ever seen

Anonymous said...

First of all, you have some great insights. Id still like to add a few of my own.

So how do we know this story is actually about something else than fighting of some huge killer wolves in the harsh wilderness...

1. Symbolism. Its everywhere in this movie. When the main character hgoes into the bar full of drunken workes he passes a neon cross that was emphasized in the pictures. It almost seem that he goes into a church, before we realise that its actually a bar.

This same christian emphasis continues througout the movie in the dialogue and otherwise.

When the plane crashes, the main character Ottway is all by himself in the snowy field, although he has strapped himself into not one, not two, but three safety belts in the plane. He is unrealistically unharmed, despite the fact that they flew straight into the gound at a speed of several hundred miles per hour, as one of the character tells us at one point.

Ottway seems to know what it feels like to die, as he talks one of the dying passengers through to the other side.

The wolves are too big and too intelligent and behave in a way that indicates that they represent something else. Remember the scene, where their eyes gloom in the dark, does it seem realistic in a film that in every other way portrays wilderness in a very realistic and gritty way.

I bet the wolves have been made to look too big and too otherworldly for a reason, and not beacause the company had a bad CGI team.

Think how the wolves behaved. Not eating their prey, backing of at strange times, when the woul have easily eaten the whole group. The wolves backed away every time the group stood united in front of them.

Remember the scene where Diaz and Ottway fought. Diaz questioned Ottways leadership, and started a fight. Ottway won. After that the wolves got into a fight amonst themselves, and Ottway said that it happened because some wolf tried to challenge the alpha wolf and lost. Exactly the same as the fight between Diaz and Ottway, with the same result also.

The wolves could have taken the whole group, at any time, but they strangely didnt. They took the group one by one, and if my memory serves me correctly, mostly when someone was leaving behind and maybe starting to lose faith.

In the end the alpha male is too big and too grimsom, and conviniently all black.

I was also wondering the logic behind Ottways saying that theyre safer in the woods. Im nor an expert in survival, but my gut instinct says, that the woods are more home field for the wolves. If the group had stood their ground at the wreckage, they could have more easily noticed the approaching pack of wolves. They also should stay their fround for the reason that that way a possible rescue crew could find them. I think going into the woods is a metaphor for hiding someones sight. That someone is death, represented by the otherworldly monster wolves.

Theres so much these strange out of place situations and things in a movie that looking from the surface is very realistic that it cannot be nothing but by design.

There would be a shitload of other stuff too, but I think this is enought to make my case. And that case being that this movie did not take place in the so called actual reality. And this film was ultimately about something else than fighting monster wolves and trying to survive yhe climate.

Anonymous said...

Well first of all dude, the species is GRAY wolves, not GREY wolves. Second of all, do you really think a movie with an ending like that doesn't have a deeper meaning? There was a reason he quoted "the Fray" before he charged te wolf, sir

anna said...

All of the above theories are plausible and justified and credit is owed to film makers for successfully pulling off thought provoking feature. The fact that john is type of security guard at start is interesting too as he is tasked with protecting other men, could b symbolic of his need to guard his spirit out of fear of death. Can't decide whether he is in purgatory or close to death though but believe he is one sick in bed. Obvious parallels with wolves and man also as counter theme,maybe referring to inevitability of life....nature is real..death is real. Strong contrast with alpha wolf and neeson, both showing fear and survival instincts, ultimately come together as one at end. Anyhow tonnes of food for thought in film, a necessary, cathartic journey that accepts the importance and gravity of life and death.

Anonymous said...

Watch after the credits. Shows the wolf on the ground taking one last breath. Makes u wonder

Anonymous said...

Finally!! You are exactly right

Anonymous said...

What do you guys make of his conversation with Hendrick when Hendrick called him out on leaving the bar and how he thought he would never see him again. Then Liam Neeson says "It doesn't really matter now does it?" or something to that affect. That was a bizzare interaction. I also remember when Liam Neeson makes the comment that "I don't know why I am writing this...I know I can't get you back..."

Anonymous said...

I just watched this film. The trailers and marketing did it poor justice. This is an EXCELLENT film. Definitely not a film for everyone though. I began asking more and more questions as it went along, and was intrigued to the very end. And your review -- SPOT ON! Thank you very much for posting it.

Anonymous said...

I had similar thoughts, though I did not put togetherthe aspects of personality yet. I believe you are entirely correct. It its a battle of will not faith. He fights so that he may stay with his wife instead of giving up his painful fight and embracing death. Faith helps push him asking at the end, but he its fighting not to die, cancer (or such) is his wolf. He is holding on. His contemplation of suicide was him considering throwing in the towel and letting the warmth of death pass over him

Jason Plummer said...

I agree nearly entirely with this OPs analysis. Often light is symbolic for heaven while dark is symbolic for hell/evil. The Grey is somewhere between. I believe the main character did in fact shoot himself that first night.

This is alluded to in the final conversation the main character has with the person who drowns. The last contact he had was with someone talking about an event at the beginning of the movie.

Before coming to this conclusion I noticed that The Grey had contact with a Christian group due to the "spiritual" aspect of the film.

This film was not about survival, because survival is not supernatural, the world the main character was in was supernatural.

Brett Voyles said...

Finally!! You are exactly right

Chris A said...

One thing I noticed in the film that may have some symbolic meaning is when right before Liam Neilson realizes he has wondered into the wolves den. He stops walking and the camera focuses on his boots. You can see the sunight on the ground surrounding his boots. The sun then is seen shining brightly behind his head - it's the first time in the film that sunlight has penetrated through the cloudy 'grey' sky. Perhaps symbolic of 'God' showing Liam Neilson the sign he was asking for earlier?

Kennels said...

Awesome movie and very good viewpoint. Makes sense. The cursing and sense of doubting faith may have led him to that Den. He decided to move on alone. It led him ultimately to forming a cross with the wallets signifying faith at time of judgment. His fate is left with only our own conclusions. Excellent movie.

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Anonymous said...

In reply to Hendricks at the end. He ends up being alone with the wallets after Henricks death. A true symbol with the poem he learned as a boy. Also, he can never get his wife back because she died. Did you notice the IV in the hospital. Most likely, she died so young of cancer. He is still upset about her and is just still in shock walking aimlessly in life. In the end, he realizes how much life is worth living for and how lucky he is and he kills the alpha wolf. He made it to the den, so the alpha male has to fight him alone. Real wolves of course wouldn't act like this , but then again it's a movie. It makes it really cool though. I think he survives the fight. The poem: re- read.

Anonymous said...

Lol the guy who barely graduated high school is telling us this movie doesnt have a deeper meaning. He didnt even catch on to the fact that theres a difference between gray and grey. The movie wouldnt of shown all those flash backs or had these key scenes if there isnt deeper meaning.

annoynomous said...

I would just like to make a comment about the flash back scene at the end of the movie. If you notice liams wife she is all dressed up, with earrings, makeup and a dress. Liam on the other hand is in a grey shirt and and looks like he hasn't shaved in awhile. Then when they pan backwards the IV drip is actually behind him and not her. So from that I concluded that he definantly was the one dying from some disease.

Lincoln Hill said...

I said the EXACT same thing when I finished the film and everyone else I was with said I was reading into it too much. Thank you for affirming my interpretation!

HearTheDevilsCry said...

Damn,i've been reading comments for about two hours...Awesome reviews :)This movie became one of my favourites after i watched it,and i knew that there is a deepr meaning of the movie,it just could't be a movie about wolf killing men...Reading your posts really gave me different points of view :) My first toughts about the deeper meaning were that John has lost everything,he didn't have a purpouse to live,he was empty-no feelings,no emotions...i got that from the way he saw his friends die...he showed nothing.Basicly he had lost what makes him human,he was just an animal...He was the "Alpha"of the men,and that he fought against the alpha of the wolfs,made me think that the movie was about facing the animal in you,saving the human part.something like good versus evil...

HearTheDevilsCry said...

But know after reading these awesome post,i realize that it's about the palce,between life and death(the purgatory) in the beginning he says that the place if full with fugitives,criminals,assholes(badguys who needs to be judged)and he says that he doien't even know why he did half of the things he had done,and that was in the beginning of the movie,basically he hadn't done anything that the watchers know of...and the thing that there are exactly 7 survivours?Can they be the 7 deadly sins?

Paul and Karen said...

The purgatory theory is good; however a simpler analogy is his grief.

We are shown in the beginning he is dealing with the loss of his wife.
She is shown again and again being pulled away from him. His letter to her is a constant sign, and what he holds on to. The wallets are references to both identity, and bonds of love.

When we lose a loved one and thrown into grief it is a place of grey, between life and death, and we are forced to wrestle with it. It throws us into a wilderness and comes at us like a wild beast, untamable and biting. It comes in waves, at unexpected times
And has physical pain. It is best described as a journey, a harsh one, and in the end requires an acceptance of the event – “you Meet it in is den” and it has death in the center.

He is in a purgatory, but in my opinion a living one.

Jason Sams said...

You're merely pointing to a difference in American Standard English and idiomatic modern British English. Grey wolf and Gray wolf communicate the same thing, Canis lupus, and Gray and Grey refer to the same color. The film offers no evidence to suggest that it means anything other than the moral "grey" area in which the men find themselves, the "grayness" of the overcast environment itself, and the "grey" or "gray" wolf.

Captn said...

I have to laugh at all of those who think there is no symbolism in this film. Do you really think writers spend hundreds of hours writing a novel of a screenplay for pure shits and giggles?

No. They didn't - YOU maybe would but real writers put actual thought and depth into what they are trying to convey.

You don't have to have taken a high school english class to figure that out

Karina Garcia said...

I think who wrote this movie never thought people will think in so many different ways.
I guess every one of us think of the movie where our counciousnes is.
Great movie.
I hope everyone saw it to the complete end.