Review: The Grey (2012)

I nearly had to arm-wrestle Coart into this movie, and he didn’t like it. But I really appreciated Liam Neeson’s The Grey.

Since I teach (did teach) American Lit, I’ve always been fascinated by the social and cultural forces that led to the development of Naturalism (or Determinism) in American culture. Jack London and Stephen Crane serve as poster boys. The credo is simple.  “There is no God. And Nature hates you. Given the chance, she will eat you alive.  Enjoy your day.”

London’s stories are often gripping tales with a lot of adventure and swash, but the gritty core is always there. “To Build a Fire” makes it obvious to most people: Nature doesn’t care about you. If anything, she delights in killing you.  Stephen Crane gave the philosophy an even colder outlook, with his famous “The man said to the Universe, ‘Sir! I exist!” poem. Of course, the Universe doesn’t give a damn.

Naturalism doesn’t really play well to American movie audiences. We like our movies fluffy, for the most part. Good guys win, bad guys lose, and hopefully there’s a great fight scene or giant explosion in there along the way.   The more sophisticated among us crave irony and satire, with allusions or visual metaphors. We appreciate the darker stories, perhaps. But those don’t make big box office bucks. So they tend to remain art films at indie film houses.

So I’m not really sure how The Grey made it into American theaters in broad release. It really is a good film, well-shot and well-acted. Liam Neeson is excellent. He’s the Irish guy you wish you had in your family, because it’d be so FUN to sit around with him on Thanksgiving and drink. Plus, he’s good looking in a 50-something, craggily sort of way.  I love Neeson.

The Grey tells the story of several people struggling to survive the brutality of Alaskan winter and cold after their plane crashes. They’re beset by ravenous wolves who seem much larger than life would normally offer.  I dunno. I’m not a wolf expert. But those were BIG wolves.

Aside from nearly freezing you to death with scenes of wind-lashing blizzards, the movie moves along pretty evenly in relatively predictable ways…. though the ending isn’t really what I’d call “predictable.”  Once you’ve seen it, you’ll say, “Yeah. That’s exactly how it needed to end.”

But through and through, this is Jack London’s story, even though he didn’t write it. Neeson’s character doesn’t believe in faith or God or anything he can’t see.  An empiricist, I suppose. So he has all the hope one might expect of a man in that position.  If you’re up against Nature and there’s no Higher Power to turn the tide, it’s going to be a long night.

I appreciated The Grey for living out a philosophy that many of my students know only from my lectures or assigned readings. I also appreciated its excellent cast, solid characterization, well-written dialogue, occasional moments of humor (very occasional), and thoughtful mien.  Coart didn’t like it…. I didn’t really delve into why, though I’d guess he found it philosophically and narratively predictable.  Our movie mates (Sara and Brett) liked it too, so I can at least claim a majority opinion. 

But if you want to read a snarky British comment, you might enjoy this editorial on Liam’s recent film career:


Disclaimer:  The Grey is rated R for violence and lots and lots of F-words.

Lenten Vows

I didn’t grow up with Lent.

Actually, being from Western Pennsylvania where a full 50% of all residents are Catholic and an imposing stone Catholic church dots many of the corners in my small hometown, I can’t imagine my formerly-Catholic-later-evangelical-independent-Bible-Church father smiling on any such observance.  He wasn’t a real big fan of the religious identity attached to him by virtue of his being the son of an Italian immigrant. Maybe if his dad hadn’t been an abusive drunk, Dad would have thought more highly of his religious heritage. So it goes. Anyway, I certainly wasn’t raised to see anything valuable in liturgical traditions.

My little country church eschewed anything that smacked of vain tradition. Truth be told, we eschewed pretty much everything… except independent Fundamental traditions. THOSE were ok.  So we had communion once a quarter, credo-baptisms once a year (if we needed to), altar calls after every sermon, and no relationship with any church that wasn’t of the same theological stripe. The *exact* same stripe.

The liturgical year in my world was marked by poinsettias for Christmas (so lovely in a building decorated in red and white and wood) and choral “cantatas” for Easter and Christmas. And patriotic sermons on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

As I get older, I sense that abandoning hundreds of years of tradition may not necessarily be any more “holy.” After all, didn’t Paul say in Romans 14 that those who celebrate certain days or seasons have no right to despise those who treat every day alike? Let each person be persuaded in his own mind.

The concept of Lent has been warped at times, certainly, but I think the kernel of beauty is truly admirable: a setting aside of temporal pleasures for the sake of earthly contemplation. Traditionally, Lent copies the 40 days of fasting that Jesus endured before His temptation and the beginning of His ministry. In my stream of Protestantism, Lent observance is a minority position and more focused on paying attention to the sacrifices demanded by Christ’s earthly ministry.

If the kenosis of Christ forms a major touchstone of our theology — that Philippians 2 details the stunning humiliation experienced by Christ so that He could embody humanity for the sake of our redemption — doesn’t that deserve some celebration in our worship? I have friends who abstain from significant pleasures and devote themselves to additional Bible study and prayer.  Usually Sundays are “days off” from abstention, for on this side of the Cross we celebrate on the Sabbath, not mourn.

My Lenten friends seem to reap benefits that I envy.   In a world full of beeps and whistles and voicemail and text messaging and Facebook and tweets and Hulu and Netflix and cable television on demand, I think a little silence is more than welcome.

so… here are my Lenten vows:

I will abstain from coffee (it’s usually my morning companion), and I might limit tea as well. We’ll see.

I will limit my engagement with online media. More books and thought, fewer Facebook sessions. (I consider blogging to be an extension of journaling, so I plan to post on Xanga throughout the season.)

I will pursue times of meditation and prayer, probably picking up with a One-Year Bible plan that I abandoned a while back.

I will set aside physical cravings so that I may with greater joy anticipate the joy of the Resurrection Sunday.


PS. Wry quip at lunch from David on Lent: “Give up something I enjoy? Well, I would give up video games but I know my resolve would crumble the day Mass Effect 3 comes out.” LOL