Friday, February 10, 2012

Gratitude and The Grey

I was in a terrible mood when I went to see The Grey. Being new here in Dallas, I am woefully unfamiliar with its freeway system and was late to meet a friend at the theater. Prior to my leaving for the movie, I also engaged in a conversation with my wife that can only be described as "intense." The combination of my disoriented driving and family friction made me doubt whether watching Liam Neeson survive in the Alaskan wilderness would be the peaceful end needed to my stressful day--boy was I wrong.

The Grey is about a small band of oil-and-gas roughnecks who, upon a plane crash en route to some needed time off, must survive in an unforgiving winter landscape. Conflict, both within and without, abounds in this survival flick. Man-eating wolves, freezing temperatures and spontaneous blizzards combine with human despair, divisiveness and good ol' fashion fear to create a frigid hell on earth.

It's up to Neeson to lead the survivors through the snow and on to safety. More than a few people die along the way and everyone must face their fears. And fear truly leaps off the screen for 117 minutes. It was easy to forget my pre-film problems in the midst of a nightmarish storyline made up of men hunted by all forms of nature. I felt pretty good about eating popcorn in a heated theater; I was beginning to see my life wasn't all that bad.

As each man stares into death's cold, dark eyes, they are asked to reduce their lives down to one or two important things. In one of the few let-me-catch-my-breath moments, the survivors engage in an existential campfire discussion about life, God and what really matters. What we learn about these hardened misfits is, when faced with life and death, the only thing that matters is who--not what--we love. It's a theme that carries through the movie, that people matter most, and I had to keep myself from texting mid-movie wife, "Thinking of you...I love you."

We also learn that staring across the chasm that separates life and death turns all men spiritual. Go watch Touching the Void or Deep Water and you'll see that man cannot avoid the spiritual realm, either its dark or light regions, once death is in sight. Around the campfire Neeson swears that neither faith nor God mean anything to him, yet when all hope seems lost he cries out to the God he doesn't think will respond. And though Neeson concludes that his assessment of God is correct, his visceral and spiritual lament at the film's end is one its most powerful scenes.

I, too had a spiritual response to Neeson and the others' journey. Frustrated by uncontrollable circumstances and relational conflict, I had my own Grey moment before the movie when I wondered, "Does God care about me right now?" It's a fair question that everyone asks, whether around a campfire in Alaska or on a highway in Texas. The breath in my lungs, though I will one day lose it, and the wife in my arms, though she too is on loan, give me cause to answer, "Yes. God does care." All of life is a gift given and The Grey makes this point emphatically. My circumstances are bound to change and more complaints are sure to follow, but this film reminds me that life and all its possessors are the bold and bright spots on a sometimes grey horizon.

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