Last night I sat down to watch a film called “The Grey” that starred Liam Neeson. And it really got me thinking about what message the director really wanted to bring to the audience.
What could a film about wolves and men running from them possibly have in common with running from your feelings or problems I hear you say? Well, a lot. Watch the movie or just hear me out for a few minutes.
The film is set in the very isolated, dark and wintery landscape of the Arctic. Neesons character is employed to defend a base camp from wolves and other wildlife there where men are employed to drill for the oil pipeline, in a place he describes himself as being “the end of the world” and a place full of “men unfit to live among mankind”. Which relates very much so to the relationship of the other main characters in the film – the wolves themselves.
Wolves are very much the outcasts of the animal kingdom, feared and infamous – unfit and unwelcome to live among mankind, like the men employed in their environment. They could also represent the fears in which we run from, that we are afraid to embrace.
There is a scene in the beginning of the film where Ottway tries to commit suicide. We are shown in this very stark, cold and isolated environment that this is clearly a man who is running from a problem. And through flashbacks we learn that Ottway has fled to the “End of the World” to escape the pain of losing his wife to illness.
What happens next is devastating as a plane crash, that Ottway and the other employees are on, goes down in an even more remote area and leaves them stranded with only 7 surviving the plane crash. What ensues afterwards is a frightening battle between man and nature, and man and wolf.
What struck me about this film was not just the fact that it was a movie that ended very abruptly, leaving many unanswered questions – something extremely relative to suicide. But that if you look very closely it represents a major insight into this very tragic and sometimes unspoken topic of depression and mental health.
To me, our world is “The Grey”. Inhospitable and cold like the Arctic. Our problems and our depressions are the wolves.
What struck me was the relationship that we can relate to between ourselves and the men that are left to fight for their survival, even though they have ran to the “end of the world” to escape theirs. We too, are constantly searching for some escape from our own reality. Some sort of rescue from the pain, should life turn against us.
In the film, the men collect all of the wallets from the dead to memorialise them and before they leave the wreckage one of them asks for a few words to be spoken. A sort of small grasp at restoring some order in the chaos that surrounds them. I took this as a reference to religion and how it functions in our lives at times of great struggle. And also what religion can do for us in times of great loss. Especially the loss of a life.
I feel sometimes that religion, rather than encouraging us to embrace the world as it is, to take responsibility for our life in the present, can lead us to use its rituals and beliefs to shield us from the imperfect world. To numb us from the awful reality of what has happened. It can defer from facing things head on and dealing with our tribulations. We can look for rescue, not in the here and now, but rather in the glory of an afterlife.
It seems that no one is safe from the wolf chase.
In todays world of fast paced living and social pressures to be successful, thin and perfect. To have the enviable career and lifestyle. It can be too much for some to outrun.
When you are watching the film you can see that there is no hope for the men, but you hope for them regardless. There is an important scene in this film where there are only 3 remaining survivors. One of them is badly injured and he collapses beside a river and demands that the other two go on without him. He tells us that this is as good as his life will ever become and that he is finished. His fight has ended. This is when something very touching happens – the three men have their first real human moment.
Because what happened up to this point was that their hope for escapism had prevented any of them from fully embracing each other as human beings. As people, who felt and hurt and cried like everybody else. When they abandoned their hope for any miracle of a rescue, that was when they finally saw themselves for who they really were and also the problems they were individually running from. It also brought them together.
This film interpreted for me, what religion is to some of us, and also what our relationships with one another can mean. It also made me look at the value of our lives. In times of great pain and suffering we call out to a God that is out there somewhere in “The Grey”, who will come and save us. We don’t feel that we have to save ourselves. That is not an option to us. And who could if you felt like your whole world was coming crashing down around you?
This is shown through a scene in the film when Ottway loses his final companion. He is cold, soaked to the skin and freezing. He calls out angrily to God, demanding that he break through and save him. Nothing happens.
He is left alone with the very grey and stark reality he was facing in the very first few scenes where he tries to kill himself. Symbolically, this means a lot in terms of interpretation, especially when he realises he has travelled straight into the wolves den that have been chasing him and killing his companions off one by one, since the plane crash.
He has come full circle. His problems remain, no matter how far he runs.
Subsequently, he finally comes to terms with his own reality and he embraces his present.
And it also goes the same for us ourselves and in our own lives when we are faced with things that we don’t think we can cope with.
Ottway is now left alone to fight the Alpha wolf, and he prepares himself for this fight. He remembers a poem his father wrote, that has some beautiful wording that we can all take something from :
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.
Ottway has not only come full circle from the suicidal man we met in the very first few scenes, but he has stopped running. He quits trying to escape the reality of his situation.
Like the pain we all face at some point in our lives; the grey is cruel and cold. But there is something past it all when you turn and face it and fight your demons. What waits for us on the other side of our battle with our problems is unknown to us at that time, but isn’t that the beauty of it all? Becoming the resilient person.
This movie has something to tell us. And after watching it, I just felt like it was something I could refer to and use as a medium for the great struggle of mental health and depression.
Instead of looking for some other-worldy escape or some abrupt end to your problems, “The Grey” asks us to find meaning in our present moment. It tells us and it shows us, that until we accept that no help is coming, or rather we can be our own help, – the grey of life is all we can expect. We will miss the beauty and the meaning of what is right in front of us.
Ottways final battle is not shown in the film, a very irritating fact to many movie goers. And probably for you too, if you decide to watch it. But this is also done so for a symbolic meaning also. You see, Ottways outcome is predetermined – he is going to die either way, whether he kills the Alpha wolf or not.
Because, death comes to us all, no matter what way it is delivered.
What matters is how we face our pain, our depression, our mortality and our inherent habitual requirement to take ourselves out of a fight, the easy way. We either run from them or we embrace them as part of ourselves and what it means to be human. As Ottway faced the wolf and his own fight – if we face our own fight, we will all experience true glory.
I feel we all handle grief, death and our own problems differently. Mental health is one of the biggest elephants in the room in todays world. It is important that we understand that we can take on our problems ourselves but that if we need to we can talk to someone who will understand. Whether that person is a close friend or a professional.
We are all so unique in our own ways and I think this movie shows us that it is ok to view things in this life differently. It reminds us that if you embrace outcomes you will always be at peace no matter what. It is ok to feel weak, to feel human. It is ok to come to the realisation that you need to change something. Because it is then that you will pick yourself up and move past it.
You might not feel it at the time, but on the other side of your fight, waits something better.
*If you are reading this and you are finding stressful things in your life are becoming too much to bear on your own please get in contact with any of these services below, you are not on your own:
If you are in Ireland you can call: 116 123