“The Grey” is one of those rare
contemporary films that not only mention faith, but holds a significant and
serious discussion about it. One would
think that would be immensely satisfying to those of us who do adhere to the
traditional Judeo/Christian convictions. The
problem is, it’s mostly nihilistic, even atheistic, and despite the extreme
extenuating circumstances, nobody’s faith seems to do them any good, anyway.
This film begins and ends in
(well, actually it was shot in
, but how many would know the difference?). A
group of roughnecks, oil field hands, is lounging, bantering, and fisticuffing
at the local bar on the grounds of the refinery, where the men are anything
but refined. In fact, the main
character, Ottway (Liam Neeson), in an overdub during the first scene, proudly
intones that this particular group of scalawags, brutes, ne’er-do-wells,
drifters, and general tough guys (or nomenclature to that effect) are his kind
Yeah, this is a man’s world, all
right, but Ottway can’t stop daydreaming about his beautiful wife, who
“left” him (we figure out very early that it’s a euphemism---she’s
dead). Ottway is not only depressed,
he’s self-pitying---doesn’t want to interact with the guys, even those who
mean well. Just wants to sit and brood.
So when he and his crew climb on the small plane to a remote drilling
site, Ottway makes it clear he wants to be left alone to stew and seethe and
simmer in peace.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you
already know what happens next: the
plane crashes in the wilderness, wiping out most of the crew.
The ones who remain must decide quickly whether they have the strength,
courage, and determination to try to survive out there, and if they’re
willing to band together to do it. Without
an acknowledged leader, it’s a struggle making a plan, but the urgency is
not only in the subzero temperatures, primitive conditions, and lack of
communication with the outside---it seems that a pack of wolves immediately
descends upon them, and the beleaguered survivors must decide how to fight
back, or literally get eaten alive.
Yes, it descends from dark and grim to
downright atavistic. But somewhere
along the way, the remaining guys get into a discussion about faith.
The first impetus is when they have to dispose of the bodies killed in
the plane crash, and at least one of them thinks that some words ought to be
spoken before they move on (this is reminiscent of Robert Duvall playing Gus
McCrae in “Lonesome Dove,” saying virtually the same thing, and the prayer
here is just as halting and ineloquent, but at least sincere).
Later on, the men are sitting around the campfire (necessary to keep
the wolves at bay as well as for warmth), and talk about what they think is
“out there.” One seems to hold
traditional beliefs, but another quite flatly says that dead is dead, and
there’s nothing after that.
Ottway, for his part, has already gently
helped a panicking, wounded, dying man by telling him to focus on someone he
loves, and who will come to take him, and that the sensation, when it arrives,
will be warm and satisfying, and the man seems to settle down and die in
peace. The others are impressed by
this, but Ottway later admits that he’s an agnostic, he was just trying to
make the guy feel better. Even later,
when Ottway finds himself even more exhausted, hounded, hungry, and depressed,
he glares up at the night sky and demands proof, yells for a sign, promises
he’ll believe in exchange for his deliverance.
A sincere believer who is well-versed in
the Psalms is not surprised to hear God addressed in strong or challenging
language. But biblically, anyway,
demanding a sign from God usually doesn’t produce the desired result.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean that God doesn’t exist---only that
He has His own agenda about requiring faith.
Can this kind of rough-hewn
action/adventure epic produce a decent sophomoric theological discussion?
Yes. But little else of
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,