Last night I watched The Grey. The IMDb synopsis says of the film, “After their plane crashes in Alaska, six oil workers are led by a skilled huntsman to survival, but a pack of merciless wolves haunts their every step.” Liam Neeson plays Ottway, the huntsman. As the group works their way through the snowy Alaskan wilderness trying to survive the terrain and the onslaught of a violent pack of wolves there are two “theological” scenes that caught my attention and thoughts.
First, as the group sits around discussing the possible reality of their deaths there are some who take hope in some sort of post-mortem existence and there is one who mocks any such idea. Ottway says he wants to believe but the thing he knows to be real is the cold, the snow, the wilderness, and all that is right in front of him. Diaz (Frank Grillo) argues that when you close your eyes there is nothingness. The others seems to hope for something more “Christian” if you will. And this is what I found fascinating: the fight seemed to be between a Christian-like worldview or a rejection of that worldview. There was no “transmigration of souls,” no reincarnation, no Nirvana. There was a destiny to obtain: either nothingness (not of the Hindu or Buddhist type) or afterlife. When someone crossed the threshold of death they arrived at their destiny.
I find that this is usually the mode of discourse when we speak of religion and afterlife in the United States. I don’t know how it is elsewhere but for most their acceptance or rejection of existence after death is often the acceptance or rejection of something like a Christian presentation of the afterlife. In The Grey no one proposes another option.
Similarly, in another scene Ottway screams at the grey sky telling “God” that if he will do something, anything, then he will believe he exists and he will give him the rest of his life. The eery scene to follow includes silence, other than natures’ howl, and that same grey sky seemingly starring back at him. Finally, Ottway says he will do it (survive) himself and he continues the journey.
Again, there seems to be a Christian or non-Christian theology here. Either God is personal, hearing, and active (which is not exclusively Christian, obviously, but our culture seems framed by a Christian version), or he doesn’t exist. Some pantheist may say that grey sky and the snow upon which Ottway sits is “god.” This god may be impersonal, but it is a god none-the-less. Whatever we call “the One” (as in Platonic or Buddhist philosophy) could exist with no desire or ability to “save.”
For Christians the film is another reminder of the problem of theodicy. We assume our God to be good, all-powerful, all-knowing. Some Christians may remove omnipotence or omniscience, but most Christians hold all three in tension and a tension it is. How does God allow someone to look into the sky calling on him without responding if he is able? Even in the Book of Job the story ends with God making an appearance. God doesn’t explain himself, but neither is he silent.
This haunting film is a good one, especially when considering matters related to life, death, suffering, and the place of humans in nature. The theology of the film is a “side-bar,” but an excellent one. At least for me it was.