Survival

Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet posted earlier this afternoon about reactions to the ending of Joe Carnahan‘s The Grey, so I thought I’d kick it around also. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Some have reportedly complained about the finale being unclear, but it’s obvious that Liam Neeson gets killed by the wolves. A guy reciting macho poetry to himself (“Once more into the fray…live or die on this day”) as he faces a growling threat is surely toast. Carnahan chooses not to show anything, but its a bit like Gary Cooper anticipating death at the end of For Whom The Bell Tolls, and feeling half terrified and half exhilarated.

This is obviously a ballsy finale because it defies conventional expectations about the dominant alpha male always surviving, and I admire that. I thought Carnahan was finished after The A-Team, and then he comes back with this…impressive. Almost too impressive. Because at the same time the Grey ending is faintly irksome and unfulfilling because there’s no particular payoff or satisfaction in watching an alpha male go down. I’d become used to death, you see, with all the other plane-crash survivors getting their throats torn to shreds so it was kind of a so-whatter.

We know how survival tales play out. Black and Hispanic guys never make it to the end. Sensitive dads and brainy types also have to die. Ditto old guys. But the strongest male always makes it to the finish and gets to exhale and savor the victory against nature and the elements. So I’m asking myself what exactly is interesting about Neeson being slaughtered at the finish? And I really can’t come up with an answer.

We all want to survive and fend off predators and live another day. We understand that we’ll eventually lose the battle and die, but in stories like this we all want the tough alpha male to make it through somehow. Because if he doesn’t make it, it means that fortitude and strength and canniness are meaningless. It means that survival is mainly about luck. And a movie that tries to sell this idea is not doing anything arresting or stirring. It’s just telling me, “Well, his string ran out, and tough shit.”

143 thoughts on “Survival

  1. Kind of a dumb movie, wants to say something about spirituality and nature and man vs. essence or some bullshit. Carnahan can’t sell that ending, that satisfaction at the place Ottway finds himself, because he’s too busy doing the horror film scares with those wolves. So much SILENT STALKING followed by BOO I GOTCHA CHARACTER ACTOR!

    It’s got too much unreality (plausibility and drama-wise), and too much bullshit, to rank with THE NAKED PREY or even stuff like THE EDGE. I liked it fine, but the movie simply doesn’t earn that ending. Neeson’s too much of a Badass Tough Guy for him to convincingly hit rock bottom (he seems to stop halfway or so).

    Also, as an advocate of wolf-punching, I admit a slight bias. Come on, dude. It would have been cathartic and affecting to just have a tired Ottway fucking DEMOLISHED by these monsters.

  2. Hopefully it will be on the Blu-ray as an alternate ending of some sorts because they did actually shoot it. Watch the red band trailer, there are multiple shots of the alpha wolf vs. Neeson beast.

  3. What happens after the end credits? Unfortunately I didn’t know there was a post credits scene until I read Roger Ebert’s review Friday night after coming home from seeing the movie. If I had known I certainly would have stayed in my seat for it.

  4. “what exactly is interesting about Neeson being slaughtered at the finish?”

    What would have been interesting about Neeson prevailing at the finish? Or Butch and Sundance, for that matter? What’s more interesting, the fact that they died or how they were acting in the moments just before?

    “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”

  5. I havent had a chance to see the flick yet, but the brief scene after the end-credits has the fanboys on Harry Knowles site embroiled in all sorts of shoulder barging debate……

    “Ottway LIVES!”

    “Nope, he’s obviously DEAD and so is the alpha wolf!”

    Cue talkback shenanigans……

    (and some interesting comments about the oiginal scripted ending…far more mainstream.)

  6. “G.N.A. says …

    What happens after the end credits?”

    Nothing much. Just a 10-second shot of the back of Neeson’s head resting against the belly of the still-breathing, dying alpha wolf. I always assumed the 18 other wolves had him for lunch.

  7. That would be FOR Whom the Bell Tolls now.

    Cannot comment further on the post because I had to stop reading for this. Continuing . . .

  8. I liked the ending because it explained the poem. He was able to resolve his father’s emotional distance with understanding. Plus, the character didn’t have much to live for. Not to give anything away, but there was another flashback that was haunting him.

  9. The point isn’t that he gets killed, the point is that he KNOWS he’s going to get killed and chooses to arm himself and go down fighting anyway. It’s basic, simple, die-with-your-sword-and-go-to-valhalla guy-movie stuff right out of Butch & Sundance.

    As for the post-credits scene, it’s fairly ambiguous but the fact that the Alpha is down and breathing slow (Ottaway may or may not still be breathing, too, but either way he’s not walking out of there) would more-or-less imply that Neeson “won” the fight to whatever degree he could have.

  10. Jeff’s always complaining about “feel-good” movies, or ones where there are assurances for the main character, but then comes one that goes in the opposite direction, and he rejects it because it isn’t the cliche.

    While survival isn’t always about luck, a lot of it is. The demise of the crew came about because they were unlucky they’re plane crashed. Bob gets it. I’ll be damned if I were to resign to get eaten and just accept it. If the wolves want me, they’re going to have to earn it.

  11. I really liked the film. The story really is about dealing with the possiblity of death. The scene were Neesons character tells the the guy on the plane “Your dying”. Its quite powerful the way he just comes out ansd says it. While I understood what they were going for with that ending the audience I saw it with ( around 80 people) let out a collective groan. It turned many people off. Audiences hate the dark screen. JUst ask fans of the Sopronos.

  12. You can sweet talk it anyway you like. This movie was a two hour lap dance before a fuck that never happened.

    And I’m talking as someone who loves Tarkovsky, Bunuel, Kubrick, Bergman etc etc blah blah blah. Point being: I love films. I know them. I write them.

    This movie was not art. It dealt with death in a very basic way. The old ‘do you have faith?’ chat. The cryptic poem. The randomness of nature. Nothing particularly thought provoking. What WAS good was Neeson’s raw strength and resilience in the face of being hunted. Stories are not reality. Why do I need to see a story about a group of people who ALL die one by one having learnt only that nature is cruel? It’s not thought provoking cinema and it’s not action adventure either. It’s a movie of equal concessions to both. THE most interesting thing about the film was the idea that here was a man whose ‘wife left him’ who was suicidal. And was faced with the creatures he had hunted, hunting him. I loved the first half of this film. Then the old God chat came up, the ex con has a heart of gold, Neeson’s wife was actually dead, she hadn’t just left him (so from drama, we move into melodrama) and then just when we think we’re going to see what we’ve been primed for for two hours: man versus beast. Alpha versus alpha across species. Neeson with fucking broken bottles between his fingers roaring as he rushes a wolf – we get a BLACK SCREEN. But don’t be disappointed, it’s supposed to be meaningful. In life, he would have died. But Joe – We don’t even get to see THAT! At least show us something for fuck’s sake. I’d have been happier seeing him get torn to shreds. Or even a freeze frame in mid air as wolf and Neeson lunge at one another? No? Just a poem and a black fucking SCREEN. Face it – don’t lie, everyone here would have LOVED to have seen Neeson take down that alpha wolf. Even if he died in the process. Key word here: ‘seen’.

  13. The ending is appropriate and realistic. He SHOULDN’T survive. Jeff you bitch about happy endings all the time and now are bitching when there is a more realistic ending?

  14. I can’t believe we’re even discussing this. Spoilers: at the beginning of the film he’s about to commit suicide. But at the end of the film, he chooses to fight. He *obviously* dies, but the important thing is that he chose to fight.

  15. I was expecting Taken with wolves, but sort of surprised that it’s rather quiet and contemplative. It’s really about survival instinct of mankind, even if there is very little to live for; you have to battle till the end; “Go down swinging” as the phrase goes. It is very grim, but I don’t think it can be any other way in that situation.

    Neeson is very good here, obviously he can relate to the character and add a dimension to it that I don’t think anyone else can. If it comes out in Oct instead of Jan, you may hear some award chatter, but oh well…

  16. WHAT A BUNCH OF PUSSIFIED BELLYACHERS.

    Sorry to go all Lex on you all, but this movie KICKED FUCKING ASS, upstairs and downstairs.

    “Spoilers: at the beginning of the film he’s about to commit suicide. But at the end of the film, he chooses to fight. He *obviously* dies, but the important thing is that he chose to fight.”

    THIS. You want your cliche? THIS was your cliche. Neeson was Mel Gibson Riggs throughout this movie. Nothing left to live for, yet HE LIVES. Dammit, if he’s going to die, he’s going to CHOOSE how he dies.

    Unfortunately THANKS TO SPOILER HAPPY JEFF, I knew there was a “twist” to the ending. Didn’t know what it was, but I knew something had people all bleeding between the legs over the ending, so I spent half the movie wondering what the ending would be instead of ENJOYING MY ASS OFF.

    Personally I was surprised the ending wasn’t that Ottway DIDN’T end up killing himself, and the rest of the movie was him in purgatory, suffering for his sin of suicide. The movie plays pretty good if you think that he actually did off himself, and now an absent God is teaching him how to fight versus quitting. I was expecting the last scene to cut away to him with the gun in his mouth pulling the trigger, or maybe have him boarding the plane again, and again, and again until he fucking “gets” it, Bill Murray style.

    Honestly the ONLY fault is that his wife didn’t leave him for some schlub. A dying wife is conventional pain…. a wife who you love dearly who still ups and leaves, THAT’S worse than anything. You don’t get to blame God for that shit. THAT’S pain.

    Whatever. I know I just saw an awesome movie tonight, one I can recommend to everyone I know, no reservations. LOVED the ending- Neeson IS the alpha male, we all know that.

  17. So…according to that Vishnevetsky piece, Bradley Cooper was the original casting choice for the Neeson-role?

    Hunh.

  18. Yeah, I know– COOPER?? This role IS Neeson’s.

    There were more than a few moments where it was painful to imagine what was going on in his mind acting out those scenes, knowing how he lost his wife and all. Just devastating stuff.

    Anyone else would have been lesser. Neeson owned this film.

  19. Presuming the post end-credits scene was meant to evoke Neeson’s being able to go the distance with the mythic Alpha Wolf.

  20. I think Brevet had it right when he said ‘My gut instinct tells me Carnahan is shying just a little from one of the reasons the fight was never actually shown. My guess would be the fight between Neeson and the wolf probably ended up looking a little cheesy and far less climactic than originally anticipated and at that point nothing could live up to expectation or what the audience could imagine on their own.’

    They couldn’t make the shitty CGI wolves meld with the live action for a real fight so they punked out and are now trying to sell it as some sort of artistic decision.

    Neeson is always awesome and if Cooper had done the film we wouldn’t even be having this conversation because it would have gone straight to VOD. That doesn’t makes this some cinematic masterpiece.

    I read a lot of tacky stuff lately with Joe Carnahan (a.) claiming that they will do a mini-re-release in the fall to get some Oscar buzz ~ to which I can only say; don’t make me laugh and (b.) that he coached Neeson by evoking Natasha Richardson and telling him to think about her. He called her ‘Natasha’ in this telling, though I seriously doubt that he ever knew her, and in fact I doubt the whole story it’s so offensive.

  21. Whatever reason Carnahan had for omitting the fight, it was a much wiser decision to leave it to our imagination. I wouldn’t be surprised if b) is entirely true.

  22. He could have left the fight in if he wanted, but he chose to cut it. If it looked bad, so be it. It makes sense to not put out a bad product. The shark in Jaws didn’t work, so you adapt, and it works out for the better.

  23. “The shark in Jaws didn’t work, so you adapt, and it works out for the better. ”

    THIS. If Bruce had been just good enough, there wouldn’t be 30 years of fawning over how great Jaws is for not showing the shark.

    A wise director knows his/her limitations.

  24. “a wife who you love dearly who still ups and leaves, THAT’S worse than anything. You don’t get to blame God for that shit. THAT’S pain.”

    If I had to choose between having a wife I love dearly leave me, or her being killed, I would have fewer nightmares over the former.

  25. “If I had to choose between having a wife I love dearly leave me, or her being killed, I would have fewer nightmares over the former.”

    She wasn’t killed- she died. There’s a shot of an IV, so you’re left to assume it’s cancer or something like it.

  26. The more I slept on it, the more I dig Vishnevetsky’s review. HE GETS IT.

    The best thing about Neeson’s character is how POWERLESS he is. The trailers make you think you’re getting Grizzly Adams meets Taken. but instead you get the smartest of a dumb bunch.

    Meaning Ottway’s best attempts at survival only delay the inevitable. An average movie would have had survivors, all thanking Ottway for saving their lives. The difference here is that EVERYBODY IS DOOMED. But that’s the theme of the movie, however: everybody IS doomed, death claims us all whether today, tomorrow or fifty years from now in bed. Death is random, it’s messy, it’s painful, it’s terrifying, it’s inevitable, it’s our common fate. The question is, do you face death by sitting your ass down by a river waiting for it, or do you bust open some liquor bottles and stab at it? Either way, you’re DEAD…. but which one is “living”?

    Just a great flick to chew over.

  27. Anyone remember a Stuart Whitman movie called Sands of the Kalihari?

    Baboons in that one. The human didn’t have a chance, no matter how feral he thought he was.

  28. “She wasn’t killed- she died. There’s a shot of an IV, so you’re left to assume it’s cancer or something like it.”

    This falls under my intended usage of the word “killed.” I fail to see how watching someone you dearly love taken by cancer is less nightmarish than having them leave you, at least outside of the armchair context of a “thriller.” An existential film is better off not playing manboy games.

    But now I feel nit picky, because just about everything else you’ve said – especially your last post – is spot on.

  29. It’s all good, Super Soul. I totally get why his wife died versus leaving him, seeing as the movie is all about death versus “loss.”

    Just my personal opinion, worth what I paid for it, that a natural death sucks but is inevitable, and ultimately blameless. Losing someone to someone else, however, ISN’T inevitable, and you get the twofer of blaming the other person AND yourself for losing them.

    The first way you lose someone and you never get to see them again. The second way you lose someone and every day you find a new way to regret it. Different kind of pain. But agree, the movie makes FAR more sense with Ottway losing his wife to death than to another man.

  30. I don’t understand why the significance of the ending is proving so elusive. Neeson’s final fight with the big bad wolf has nothing to do with the dominant theme of accepting life as a gift and living IN the moment. Neeson’s character, grappling with suicidal feelings and despair over atheistic beliefs, comes into his own and owns the last few moments of his life before he almost certainly perishes.

    End of arc, end of movie. Granted, so many endings are so tediously over-long and literal-minded these days that this picture ending where it SHOULD is awful unusual, but commendable.

    The Wrestler ended in a similar fashion.

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