The Grey movie recalls other man versus beast struggles, and whether it is man v. beast or mano a mano, it always seems to come down to the alpha male.
This 2011 movie, The Grey, starring Liam Neeson, as Ottway, has plenty of both, from the battles within the group of stranded oil workers to the battle without, against a pack of wolves. It ends up being pack versus pack.
The Grey movie is definitely a boy’s night out macho fest, but minus the fun, the ladies, the good times and everything else. But boys will be boys, so despite their predicament, there are some moments of humor, albeit a very dark humor befitting the morbid situation.
In The Grey movie, Ottway and his pals, check that, scum of the earth, as he says, felons, ex-cons, guys who wouldn’t be welcome in the lower 48, have crashed into a snowbound and blizzard-driven landscape of Alaska while being flown to work on a drill site. Ottway and a handful or so of fortunate others have miraculously survived the plane crash only to be set upon by a pack of murderous canines. Make that the unfortunate others.
Nominally, wolves, these dogs seem to have a bit more going on than that which is known in the scientific literature. Not only do they have murderous intent, but they also seem to be in it for sport. Killing for the sake of killing, these wolves are thrill killers.
The oil workers are in the cross-hairs. Their faith, or lack thereof, is tested. Nothing on earth or in heaven, it seems, will get them out of this predicament, their prayers, pleas, curses, and challenges notwithstanding.
There is something odd about these wolves. Something wrong with them, maybe. There is the hint of the supernatural and a malicious one at that. Maybe something of the devil, too, or the occult. Something is not right on this snow-swept tundra. But some of that could be said for the men, too. There is plenty wrong with some of them. And, as far as the reluctant hero, Ottway, well, he has his issues, too.
Ottway is the leader of this group, a wolf hunter by trade, and his knowledge of the ways and wiles of Canis lupus proves to be spot-on. Has he been targeted by the wolves? Is it because he is the hunter? Or is it because he is the alpha male of this shabby bunch of would-be tough guys? It is open to speculation and then some, with the hint of the supernatural being dropped rather broadly like a heavy snow on the unfortunate men. They are out of their element, and in that of the wolves, and that may be motive enough as Ottway says. The ferocity of the attacks, and the mortifying howling at night, terrorize the men. These are some spooky wolves.
As the men’s numbers dwindle in bloody attrition, the wolves seem to multiply no matter how many are killed. A showdown is coming as alpha male, Ottway, emerges in concert with the deep and powerful, howling presence of his wolf leader counterpart. As the film wound down, I began to fear a Hollywood ending would trample all over what had gone before, a gritty, bleak, and desperate fight for survival against a seemingly unstoppable malicious force. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded.
This movie also rewards the viewer for sticking around through the credits with a final bit of color added to the denouement. Hollywood endings are normally short on ambiguity.
The Grey movie immediately reminded me of the film, The Ghost and the Darkness, which featured kill-happy lions in Africa taking on, and eating, the men of a railway bridge construction project in 1898. Based on a fascinating true story, there was no choice but to defend and, ultimately, hunt the lions down. The murderous lions of the Tsavo River in Kenya ran up a reputedly outrageous, but in-controversy, body-count of 135 on the men before being stopped. In an interesting footnote to history, The Field Museum, in Chicago, acquired the skins of the two lions which were then mounted into a natural display setting by taxidermy. The Field Museum now says that the true number of men eaten by The Tsavo Lions was closer to 35, still an astonishing number.
I vaguely remember seeing these lions, but I am not really sure I did, when I visited the museum at about eight years of age. However, I did have my own incident in the museum as some big kid stalked me around the display cases and shook me down for a dime. Thoroughly terrorized, I paid him. A few short years later, a kid in the French Quarter, of New Orleans, accosted me outside a penny arcade and demanded a nickle. When I told him no, he said he was going to get his brother. I told him to go ahead. While the economics of strong-arm robbery seemed to be depressed, my response was on the rise. Handy, in a world of predators of all stripe. (I assure you, this was all well after the Revolutionary War.)
In any event, it gets personal in these man versus man or man versus beast battles. And to loosely quote the the old cowboy in The Big Lebowski, sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.
Now about that bear. Did you ever see the movie, The Edge?
Slinking away now, while I’m still ahead, after all, the thrill killing never stops, and I still have my nickle. And in some quarters, that is probably considered a win-win.