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Posts Tagged ‘Existentialism’

The past year has seen the release of two films that offer very different — one might say polar opposite — reflections on man’s relationship with nature.  Joe Carnahan’s thriller “The Grey” fits into the classic “man vs. nature” theme, whereas Ken Kwapis’ family drama “Big Miracle” has more to do with the man-nature relationship in its positive aspects.

I have a lot to say about both films, so I will review them separately.  Let us begin on the “dark side” of things and delve into “The Grey.”

We could say that the essence of the worldview suggested by “The Grey” is nature as death.  Let’s face it — living in a comfortable world of technological advancements, we modern Westerners are very good at denying the reality of our ultimate demise.  Maybe we don’t explicitly deny it, but we have at least a subconscious tendency to think of death as something far off … if we think of it at all.

Partly, this is because death is not a lot of fun to think about.  I’ll be the first to admit that.  But the fact that we live in the midst of advantages and luxuries that even the kings of ancient times would never have dreamed of has something to do with it as well.

Without the challenges of living in the midst of nature and her wild ways, without the constant reminder of mortality she holds before the eyes of anyone left to her embrace, without the awe-inspiring sense of dependence on something larger than ourselves that she elicits, death is simply not an immediate concern.  In one way or another we accept that it exists, of course; but I would say that we generally take it as an abstract concept rather than a concrete reality that crouches in the shadows, eyes fixed on each one of us, poised to lunge at our throats.

And sooner or later it will not only make its move, but will do so successfully.

I can’t help but think of this when I recall “The Grey,” which follows a band of arctic oilmen who have survived an airplane crash in the Alaskan wilderness.  Led by an experienced hunter named Ottway (Liam Neeson), they struggle for survival in the face of extreme cold, lack of sustenance, and — worst of all — a pack of wolves into whose territory they have unwittingly stumbled.

Those of you who have seen the film will recall the scene in which they are all huddled around a campfire in the woods at night, and out of the darkness the glowing, ravenous eyes of the wolves shine all around them.

Fr. Robert Barron, whose review of “Skyfall” I posted yesterday, did a video commentary on “The Grey” around the time it came out in theaters.  With background reference to the thought of German existentialist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Fr. Barron suggested that we could see the wolves as symbolic of death.

In the eyes of the wolves, we see something like what we see in the eyes of death — something that is against us, not for us; something without mercy or sympathy; something that forces us to be on our guard and to fight with every resource we have available, and yet always gets us in the end.

Fr. Barron sees a definite existentialist bent in Carnahan’s film, and who can blame him?  Still — and I say this with due humility, since Fr. Barron is obviously a far smarter man than I — I think we can glean more from the movie than that.

For my purposes, the wolves represent the “dark side” of nature.  Following our train of thought so far, we would then have to say that the dark side of nature relates to death.  This begs a multi-part question: “Why is it this way?  Why is nature hostile to man?  Why does the reminder of death seem so ingredient in its being?”

This relates to an even bigger question: “Is life really a cosmic absurdity?  Does death have the last word?”

Having addressed the fundamental issue of death, I intend to explore these questions next.

As the representative of the more negative view of the man-nature relationship, “The Grey” is decidedly more complex than “Big Miracle.”  For that reason and in order to give the reader a break, I will divide my reflection on this film into two separate posts and conclude it tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

“The Grey” poster is from http://www.imdb.com, the second photo from http://www.dailyfilmdose.com, and the third photo from http://www.guardian.co.uk (all obtained through a Google image search).

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