(For those curious, this was a school project of mine from back in high school)
I went into this movie unsure of what to make of it, and throughout the first half, I had a little trouble getting into it, simply because from the moment it started, I was viewing it as a reviewer rather than simple audience, and with full intent of writing this blog as soon as I got back. By the end, I was more than fully immersed in it. What also helped is that the wolf is my favorite animal. So getting to see them in action always makes me happy. But I'd be lying if I said this movie didn't hit home in so many other ways. By the end, I felt like this movie was tailor-made for me.
(And another one I did in my spare time)
OH! Also, if you go see this movie, there is a tiny shot after the credits. Personally, I didn't feel is was that satisfying of an after-credits shot. If you don't like sitting through credits, don't wait up. It's literally just 5 seconds of one shot, which I will explain down below, near the end of this.
------SPOILER LAND! BEWARE OF WOLVES!------
The movie begins with the introduction of Liam Neeson's character, Ottway. He works with Alaskan drillers as a protector from wolves who occasionally attack the workers. He narrates his living conditions, but in short: he lives in the fringe of society; pretty off the grid, not unlike those he works with and survives with throughout the movie. Ottway silently laments to himself about his long-lost lover (whether she is dead, or just left him, we still don't know at this point). Feeling like he has nothing left to live for, he gets down on bended knee in the middle of an empty, snow-covered street. He puts the barrel of his rifle in his mouth and begins reaching for the trigger. He's stopped, though, by the haunting echo of howling wolves in the mountains. Right away, I could feel the pull of destiny awaiting him. So ominous and chilling. But before I continue, I want to get it out of the way.
The reason I didn't rate this movie a 9/10 or even a 10/10, was because I was able to correctly predict what was going to happen to each character and whatnot. The movie is relatively predictable overall, but how minor that is in the face of what this film is saying.
Okay, so as not to spoil every bit of the movie, I will just pick certain scenes to discuss that really stood out to me. First, as it is not really a spoiler, Ottway is caught in a plane crash, which I must say, was pretty fucking intense, in particular the last shot of the plane still being in the air, when we see Ottway's face panicing face rushing through open air, as the side of the plane has presumable ripped away. I can only imagine the horror of it (not to mention all the rushing snow flooding the plane and heightening the tension of it).
Also during these opening scenes, Ottway, who is very much preoccupied with his lamenting, slips in and out of a recurring dream about his lost love. What made these so noteworthy for me, even as they were happening was the transition they used from the dream to what was real. Hmm. That is actually a good example of one of the major themes, but we'll get into that in a moment. In any case, I absolutely loved how they transitioned those scenes. Another reason why I liked this movie is because it's set in a snowy forest, which I always find very pleasing to the eye. Yet it is such a harsh environment, and they REALLY show that aspect of it.
The next scene I want to discuss is one that really affected me personally. Shortly after the plane crash, at night, Ottway is searching the wreckage when he comes across the flight attendant's body, which is moving. As he gets closer, he see that a huge black wolf is eating the back of her head. Ottway begins to charge at it, hoping to protect the body when out of fucking nowhere a wolf jumps him and begins biting the shit out of his leg. Now, I knew there were wolves in this movie. It's partly why I saw it. But holy balls, did that happen so quickly and terrifying. Some of my closer readers may know that back in 7th grade, my dog suddenly and without warning did pretty much the same thing to me, except to my face. Unfortunately, it happened again my freshman year of high school. That time, we finally had to put him down... I now have two scars on my face as well as a tiny fold on the inside of my upper lip. So when this happened out of fucking nowhere, it really took me back to that, which was personally terrifying for me. The reason I bring this particular attack over any of the others, is because of the scene's timing, you can sorta feel the others coming. Like I said, it's predictable, but it hit home in more ways than with most people, I'd venture to guess...
Throughout the first while of this movie, I was searching for what the themes were. While the primary one is really explicitly said at/near the end, the other major one that ends up leading to the primary one really shows through in the scenes when the few survivors are sitting around the fire talking. In particular, when one of the survivors, who is initially a huge asshole, is arguing with Ottway. In their dialogue, I picked up the theme maybe easier than I should have, but it's such a major issue that I take a ton of time thinking about: Nature and our roles in it. The asshole, Diaz, really represents the viewpoint that despite what we want to think happens to us after we die, nothing happens. We die and that's that. The other survivors are conventional in their viewpoints, believing in a higher power and heaven and whatnot. Ottway cuts in during Diaz's rant, saying that he actually agrees with Diaz. He wishes he didn't, he wishes he was wrong, but he just can't see it. The main difference between them though, is that Diaz is only looking at it in that way. Ottway agrees about the ruling forces of nature, rather than god, but he doesn't necessarily linger on it. Instead, he recognizes it, and uses it to help them survive their bleak situation. Again, hitting home, as this is my view on how society should be functioning now, or will be in the future: one that recognizes how nature works and works with it, instead of creating these pseudo realities that we put ourselves in, because when all is said and done, where are our morals and values when we are being overtaken by nature? Nowhere. Because like it or not, you may be in the comfort of your nice home, at your computer, reading this blog right now while doing a number of other things, I'm sure, but out there, in the wild, wolves like these exist, and if pretty much any of us were thrown into this situation, I can get we'd be shitting our pants, waiting for death to take us.
Yet again, this movie hit a particular fear of mine, when the dwindling group of survivors are tasked with shimmying across a make-shift rope across a huge gorge. I'll skip ahead to a shot too long NOT to be foreshadowing the death of the next member, Burke (I think... the guy with the glasses). He suffers from a major fear of heights, which I also consider to be one of my greatest fears. As anyone in the audience could see coming, the "rope" snaps and he goes slamming into a huge pine, then falling and smashing through tons of branches on his way down, which I could guess was about 20 feet... Definitely not a situation I want to be in, or even near. He goes into shock and begins hallucinating his daughter. Meanwhile, in the what is actually happening, the wolves begin tearing him apart while the remaining three rush down to try and save him. On the last drop, Diaz injures his knee.
Now, Diaz's death meant a lot to me. With his knee pretty fucked up, he felt he could literally not walk any further. He sits himself down on a log on the banks of the river they're traveling next to. Ottway and Hendrick try to talk him out of it, but he ends up justifying his own death, accepting it, ready to embrace it as he looks upon a breath-taking backdrop of the mountains, the forest, and the river beside him. The remaining two leave him as he sits there. He finally mutters, "I am not afraid." We don't see him again.
This really ends up being the major major theme: Don't fear death. Hendrick dies in the river after a wolf attack, leaving Ottway alone, the sole survivor of the crash, with seemingly no way out. He finally loses his cool that he's kept throughout the whole film. He begins bargaining with a god that does not answer. He finally begins traveling again, for a short time, before finally giving up. He begins going through the wallets of the dead, looking at their pictures, which conjures the familiar sight of his lost love, who tells him "Don't be afraid," before focusing on the IV drip. So needless to say, she is dead...
It's at this point that we hear a growl. Cut to a panning long shot which ends up focusing on old antlers and a rib cage. Ottway has managed his way into the wolves' den, which is exactly where he has been trying to get away from. Hah! There's another great example of the theme being presented. The wolves begin surrounding him. The Alpha wolf, which is pitch black and huge calls the others away. Now, what I haven't explained is that the Alpha has taken an interest in Ottway, as they are effectively one and the same. In the interest of time, I'll let you interpret that for yourselves, as there are a number of ways that they are alike. Anyway, the Alpha begins coming down slowly, challenging Ottway. Ottway begins dumping out his pack for small liquor bottles and a knife and begins taping them to his hands. He smashes the bottles on a rock, making them jagged and ready to cut. The real moment here is when he beings reciting a poem of his dad's that he brings up earlier in the film. It's a real homage to his father and the theme of the movie, and I gotta say, I was definitely getting teary-eyed, as were others in the theater. Ottway recites the poem as the camera slowly moves closer to his face, and then cutting to the Alpha's face and then back to Ottway. Ottway and the Alpha finally charge at one another and then it cuts to black.
The after-credit shot which I mentioned above is just a shot of the Alpha on his side, breathing heavily, not unlike the wolf at the beginning of the movie, when Ottway snipes it down, he puts his hand on it and waits for the breathing to stop. Anyway, the shot is of the Alpha's heavy-breathing body on its side, and the top of Ottway's head lying on top of the Alpha, looking up, presumably dead, or more poetically, in a similar state as the Alpha.
Finally, I'd like to take a moment and tell another story that made me feel connected with the film. A couple years ago, when I was living back home, there was a night when I suddenly felt this odd new feeling. It was one I had never felt before, but if I had to describe it, it was the feeling that I was going to die. There was nothing externally happening that was leading me to this feeling, it just came over me. "It's time. Whether you like it or not. Do what you will, because when you go to bed, you aren't waking up," is pretty much how I personified it. So, I laid in bed, and texted Zach, telling him about it. To this day, he thinks I'm crazy but I still think that it was going to happen somehow. I can't explain it. All I could do, was fight the unknown-ness of it all. I was scared of what may happen. I didn't believe in heaven or hell, but what would happen? I was about to go venturing into the vast unknown darkness, and I couldn't have been more terrified. I wanted to say goodbye though, so I wrote a letter to everyone, in case I didn't wake up. Anyway, the shot where Ottway is reciting his dad's poem, I could see that same look. Shaky breath, clenched jaw, trying so desperately to show no fear, trying to accept it, trying to not be afraid to die.
When I saw this in Toy Story 3, I knew the exact feeling. Having to accept the inevitable death that we all must eventually face. The only thing I feel I can say is that if you're facing death, remember those you love, and who love you. Don't face it alone, whether you are alone or not...
Since that night, I've had another near-death experience, and since then, the prospect doesn't scare me nearly as much. It's something we all must face. I feel more than lucky to have faced the feeling twice and come back from it.
So, with that, I suppose I'll end it. I leave you with a song that helped me get through the fear of the end. It's what I imagine the final journey to be like. This is "Dissent," by Andrew Bird.
Until next time...