Last night, I saw Liam Neeson's new film, THE GREY, directed by Joe Carnahan. The movie follows a group of oil drillers who survive a plane crash and are hunted by a savage pack of wolves. I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. I don't consider myself a great critic, or even a good one, so I won't give a topical analysis of the movie, but I will share some things that were particularly interesting to me.
From the start of the movie, you see a bright blazing blue cross contrasted by dark surroundings (physically and metaphorically). Right there in the beginning, religion in general, and Christianity in particular is introduced, no matter in how small a way. Surely crosses are ever abounding in our society, from necklaces to tattoos to artwork, and oftentimes with no seemingly significant meaning. But, this blue cross is loaded. As the movie progresses and the men encounter the death of their friends and must confront their own fear of dying, they raise common questions concerning the existence of God and the meaning of life. This seems to be the major issue in the movie: Does God exist and does He care about the lives of these condemned men?
This evening, I laid down and watched Ingmar Bergman's 1957 classic, THE SEVENTH SEAL. I was enjoying the film, but I was so tired that I fell asleep after about 15 or 20 minutes. When I awoke a couple of hours later, I was excited to finish and the film did not disappoint. It begins with a Crusader resting on the shore of a great sea. He encounters Death himself and challenges him to a game of chess in order to determine his fate. Unsurprisingly so, throughout the entire film, similar questions to the ones posed in THE GREY are raised. Does God exist? What comes after life? Are we all there is?
Whereas Bergman's film seems to be a bit more ambiguous about its understanding of God and man, with two of the main characters in the end being philosophically at odds with each other, Carnahan's is much more pointed. Throughout the movie, there are several hints that not only does God not care about the plight of the characters, but that God doesn't even exist. One of the most blatant expressions of this comes as Liam Neeson is on the banks of a ranging river at perhaps his lowest point in the film. He cries out to a blank sky for a sign or deliverance of any kind, vowing that if it comes, he will believe in God for all his life. As he waits and finally receives no response, he resolves to do what is necessary himself. He then goes on to build a sort of altar out of the wallets (now representing the men themselves) of the fallen, and finally wraps his hands in a curiously prayer-like way around the final wallet. This conveys what he voiced earlier. If God couldn't or wouldn't answer man's prayer to Him, then man would have to find his answers and deliverance in "prayers" to mankind itself. Also, in the end it hints to the fact that man finally kills the Alpha male. Previously, the group had killed the Omega of the pack. Certainly these are terms that are meaningful simply in reference to a pack of wolves, but in such a religiously charged atmosphere, one has to wonder if this isn't a reference to the demise of The Alpha and the Omega, a moniker for the Christian God found in the Biblical book of Revelation.
In any case, both of these films raise important questions and I appreciate them for that. It is quite telling that films that were made over 50 years apart from each other both contain almost identical questions about the nature of man and God and I'm certain that the same questions will continue to be asked for the rest of time.
These movies both remind me of a quote by the great Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo:
"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."