As an inveterate creature-feature junkie, I had to recruit my 17-year-old brother Monday night to see Liam Neeson's new action thriller The Grey.
The story is pretty simple: A motley crew of oil workers board their jet to return home from a long shift in the Alaskan winter. Somewhere over the Canadian Rockies, the plane suffers an inexplicable mechanical failure and nose-dives into the snowy tundra. The survivors (led by Neeson's character) decide to strike out for shelter, but find themselves beset by a pack of ravenous and hulking CGI wolves. Predictably, the roster of human survivors quickly starts to dwindle. The perils of the northern winter also take their toll, leaving Neeson alone to make his final stand at the wolves' den, which he had hoped to avoid all along.
Amid flashbacks, we gather that Neeson's wife (or girlfriend) died tragically, leaving him without a solid reason to live. His sole comfort throughout the crash and subsequent battle against the wilderness is an existential poem his father penned:
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.
If the film were silent, nothing would have merited its R rating. Unfortunately, whoever wrote the script felt the need to use profanity so often it became comical.
But the real thrust of this story was about neither feisty critters nor foul language. It was atheism.
During a fireside debate about the transcendent (punctuated throughout with chilling howls), Liam Neeson's character confesses, "I don't believe in that stuff. I wish I could, but it's all fantasy. This is real," he says, gesturing to the dark forest. "Those things out there are real."
"I don't care about the next life," he says later. "I'd rather live this life."
Ironically, before the end we find him crying out to Heaven for help, demanding that God "prove Himself" by rescuing Neeson. The scene is brilliant -- calculated for maximum emotional impact. But it nevertheless retreads the standard atheist syllogism: God doesn't answer to my beck and call, therefore He doesn't exist (and I hate Him).
Not the film I was expecting. The biggest, nastiest wolf on the screen was philosophical, not literal. Oddly enough, I suspect it deceived a lot of people, too, despite wearing no sheep's clothing.