In Joe Carnaghan’s The Grey, John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a rifleman watching out for wolves who might trespass the wire fences of a pipeline. He’s part of a mixed bag cast of mostly men who prefer to work in Alaska, its industrial setting evoking the same Blade Runner-styled dystopia. I can never hate the movie for the tone it evokes despite my few yet glaring objections towards it. His life isn’t worth living after his wife/daughter has died. He contemplates suicide but doesn’t go through with it. He boards on a flight out of Alaska, which now makes me think of what would have happened if this was a normal flight. John stares at the walls of his apartment, lots of crying, the works. But since that’s boring, so the plane crashes, and Ottway and six other tough guys, who are almost indistinguishable from each other, contend with wintry condition and a pack of wolves hungry for human flesh. What ensues is a tightrope walk between an art movie and exploitation, coming as well with the best ‘waking up from a dream’ reaction sequence I’ve seen recently.
This movie adds itself into a list of movies with an all-male cast that come up once or twice a year. I supposedly can’t point fingers about the movie’s sexist exclusion since these characters are excluded themselves. That by having two Hispanic men and one black guy they’re making concessions towards inclusion as it is. Or that Neeson has personal experience on the loss of a woman in his life that reflects this movie’s plot. But by saying that ‘these men live on the fringes’ it’s also saying that ‘only men are allowed to be on the fringes,’ only visiting their wives and daughters once a year or something at the comfort of the latter’s home where they belong. Or worse, they’re relegated as ghostly presences that drive their men into fatalistic behaviour. Ottway’s ghost, by the way, is old enough to be his daughter. Anyway, women are treated as symbols or metaphors instead of characters. And hey, there’s a female flight attendant in the plane. Give her a chance to be eaten by a wolf or have her manicure fall off due to frostbite or something. It’s so annoying.
And speaking of being eaten by a wolf, one of the men die because he turned his back from his watch duty to pee. Animals use scent i.e. pee to mark their territory. Canadian teachers tell us these things in high school if we have to go to the Arctic or because the Arctic is part of our heritage or something. So these wolves don’t respect the pee rule? I’m so offended on the wolves’ behalf that a movie makes them look so uncivilized. And I know that I’m watching a Liam Neeson movie and not a pre-Gold Rush Discovery Channel, but the behavioural patterns of the wolves, in general, are questionable at best. It might be implied that the wolves were cannibalistic, which they could be in reality, but the movie makes them seem too predatory as opposed to hunting their meat by necessity. The wolves, you say, are a metaphor, you say, that the desperate, all-consuming hunger that people in the fringes experience that only makes them gang up on each other and eventually kill them inside. Meh.
I know this is a conflict of interest because I vetted for Juliette Binoche last week, but vote for her or for Ralph Fiennes here as the better performance of the 90’s at Encore’s World. Now to my write-up…
Ralph Fienneslets his audience fill in the blanks to his character in Schindler’s List Amon Goeth, subverting our assumptions about Nazis, despite the latter’s necessarily constrictive place within the movies boundaries of good and evil. At first glance there’s no way he could have gotten his job as an SS captain without nepotism – just look at how incompetently decadent he is. On the other hand, a man who has that posture, with or without riding a horse, cannot possibly belong in the upper levels of old Germany.
The way he looks at entrpreneur and eponymous hero Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), like an older brother who drives him to both jealous admiration and protective fascination can hint to either provenance (Here’s his reaction when Oskar kisses a Jewish girl). Maybe he’s piling on his daddy issues towards him, whether it’s the father who thinks he’s never right or the one he never had.
A sequence in the movie’s second half takes us to three locations within a concentration camp in Plaszow. A Jewish couple gets married. A Polish singer performs and sets her eye on Oskar. But the encounter we’re going to focus on is between Amon and his maid/punching bag/ sex slave Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz, the Princess of Accents, in a performance that should have guaranteed a better career). Amon talks to or talks at her, a logic-defying four-minute monologue.
I keep trying to place him in different contexts, like if both wars didn’t happen. His awkward creepiness with make him barely survive my context. But his flustered way of speech is opposite of his supposed evil nature. It’s easy to prove that he’s evil – he just played target practice on a bunch of Jews. The one-on-one encounters, however, show his humanity.
The sequence’s shot-counter shot relationships shows Amon’s real place within his mangled relationship to Helen. He extends his arm the same way the singer does to Oskar, making him a less successful seducer than the Polish woman. The kissing and the glass breaking symbolize how he cannot consummate his relationship with Helen and deflects his lust to more destructive emotions.
Let’s go back to the monologue, seeming to have of different emotions, conveying waves instead of arcs. A lesser actor would have said his lines quickly and jarringly, it’s the first instinctual conclusion that we might see on paper.
Fiennes, however, delivers the transitions smoothly because he sees just one emotion instead of many. He sees disgust, its many syllables and its many targets. It’s disgust towards himself, towards the world that has both joined him and Helen and has been violently keeping them apart, disgust towards her. Only Fiennes can see not just love as the opposite of hate but within hate.
- Review of Schindler’s List (socyberty.com)
The titular Nell (Jodie Foster), gets discovered by the small town’s Dr. Jerry Lowell (Liam Neeson) after her mother’s death. The childlike feral virgin has unformed relationships with the outside world. Because the South needed another stereotype, she is awkward and has a distorted Dixie-like twin language that Jerry tries to learn and adapt as he camps outside Nell’s cabin. She can either be an institutional prisoner or an oddity splashed all over the media. She is unable to articulate her paranoia of a sexual threat, whether it be Jerry himself or the horny hicks who talk about her in a pool hall nearby.
Dynamics get more complex as Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richrdson RIP) wants Nell to be locked up in a ‘caring’ institution, and she camps out near Nell’s sanctuary to prove she’s right. Again, there’s this lingering possibility that Nell can become Jerry’s lover. Paula even suggests Jerry to ‘educate’ her because, as a phobic, Nell has to ‘face her fears’ – to that we say, ‘please don’t.’ However, Paula’s presence partly directs Nell asserts herself to the role of Jerry’s surrogate child. Which, by default, Paula becomes Nell’s surrogate mother, and you know where this leads.
We fortunately don’t see the worst case scenario, and besides these lingering threats, the story’s mostly about two lonely people who try to communicate with each other. That the story leads me to these different tangents and alternate fates shows that the script isn’t insipid. Nonetheless, it was a queasy journey before the end. And here’s hoping that Trey Parker or Seth McFarlane hasn’t made fun of this movie yet.