Just before Ash Wednesday, I saw the movie “The Grey.” What I thought would be an action movie about wolves chasing Liam Neeson and a few survivors around Alaska turned out to have a number of messages for Christians to think about this Lenten Season, especially as we move into Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.
In the film, a plane full of oil rig roughnecks crashes into a remote spot in the Alaskan wilderness. The survivors are, indeed, stalked by wolves. But as the director of the film told NPR, “The Grey” is no more about wolves than “Jaws” was about sharks. It had more to do with the humans than the animals.
Our bible study group discussed the ways in which the survivors coped with their predicament. Some stoically accepted their fate, while others lashed out at their bad luck. The hardest thing for them to admit was how scared they were, which was clearly the case for each of them.
It was evident that the director and screenwriter gave a lot of thought to link the survivors to the case of the apostles. They had names like John, Peter, and Ottway (the leader), whose name sounded a lot like “Yahweh” when other folks pronounced it. Each of them came from the same working class background that Jesus’ followers did.
But what stuck with me was the connection of the film to a moment I always remembered as a kid saying the Rosary. It was “The Agony in the Garden,” (the first sorrowful mystery, if you are keeping score) where Jesus begged God to not let him suffer. That scene always got to me. After all, when he was portrayed in the movies, Jesus either goes through the whole crucifixion scene rather indifferently, as if he can easily take the pain, or the passion is almost overdone. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, the fact that Jesus was sweating blood, dreading his fate, showed perhaps a human side to him that in a lot of ways is easily relatable in scary situations.
The other moment that stuck with me was when Ottway insisted that the wallets of those who died would be carried along. The reason wasn’t obvious at first. I mean, where were they going to find a convenience store for the cash out in the tundra, or even an ATM? But after each survivor is taken, one by one, Ottway is the only one who remains. At the end, he finds himself back at the killing grounds near the Wolves’ den. He takes the homing beacon that would take days for rescuers to locate in the blizzard. He then sets out the wallets and arranges them in the shape of a cross. Could the wallets be for a fire to ward off the wolves?
John A. Tures is associate professor of political science at LaGrange College.