I'm not sure if anyone picked up on it, but halfway through The Grey, a film by Joe Callahan, something irritated me. A handful of the Alaskan air crash survivors are enjoying a brief respite by a campfire and musing on what they would do if they got out alive. One of the men, who happens to be a Latino from the Bronx and is the troublemaker in a group of hardened men, says he would want "just one more fuck." He elaborates: the last time he copulated, at the North Shore oil pumping station, was with a "50-ish, fat, ugly, half-Eskimo hooker." The rest of the men, including Liam Neeson, appear to sympathize, as much as you can sympathize when it's so cold. So, as if ugly and fat wasn't bad enough, she was also Inuit... OK, granted, these men are tough and un-PC - the film's starting premise is Con Air meets Alive -- but would a line in some other movie about a "fat, ugly, hooker who was black on top of it all" have made the cut? I strongly doubt it.
Even factoring in the film's own metalevel -- the brutal, bleak, gory world of men facing long odds -- it strikes me as offensive. And gratuitous, as in "let's just drop in an additional reference to 'Eskimos' to establish our credentials that we're actually doing a film about Alaska here." Because the film actually knows nothing about Alaska except that it is snowy, mountainous and wild. Example: one of the characters suffers altitude sickness below treeline; even in coastal Alaska there's a mile of vertical space separating woodland from nosebleed country.
Ken Kesey wrote a semi-great last novel, Sailor Song, about a Hollywood film crew that comes to an Alaskan coastal town, parking a cruise ship in the port, and turns things upside down for a while. The making of The Grey must have been similar. A scan of the Google results turns out several bizarre groaners. One is that Liam Neeson ordered four wolf carcasses (which may or not have been killed otherwise) so that the cast could feast on the flesh in what I suppose was some kind of weird method-acting version of the Eucharist. And the actors did in fact eat the wolf. It belongs in another bad movie, like drinking deer blood in a male-bonding ritual and then shouting "Wolverines".
I suppose none of this would matter too much except to a few natives, but the film has been positively reviewed by smart critics and has pretensions of being important. I do realize it isn't supposed to be taken at face value. It wants to be a parable with mystical, supernatural overtones, like Jarmusch's Dead Man. And of course, it's almost impossible not to think of "Lost" when a plane crash is involved. The scattered burning wreckage on the frozen wastes near the beginning could have been lifted directly from the pilot episodes in Hawaii. The CGI-generated wolves are clearly the smoke monster here. They even look like a bit like the smoke monster - they're really not very well generated for a good movie.
Like the half-Eskimo hooker, wolves are a sensitive topic in these times -- not just in Alaska but throughout the upper West. I'm left shaking my head at why Callahan chose to be deliberately provocative in demonizing them. Starting with Canadian writer Farley Mowat (good old Farley -- Never Cry Wolf was one of the first feature movies I remember seeing as a kid), at least forty years of thoughtful work has been devoted to rehabilitating their reputation. No one has ever seriously considered wolves a threat to humans (as opposed to humans' economic interests) anyway. How many grown men have been killed by wolves in the last century? Why were wolves picked? Is it ill-conceived revenge for years of movies like Dances with Wolves? Joe Callahan's way of saying, "Screw you, Farley Mowat, for stretching the truth a bit, here's a complete lie"?
The movie is laced with dubious facts ("wolves are the only animal that seeks revenge") and absurd theories about rogues and alpha wolves. I even considered that it could be on the verge of saying something cryptically about American military adventures (seeing as many movies like Avatar do go there) but I'm not sure what it would be saying in that case. Compared to its claims about wolves, it would be about twice as logical to have the enemy be a pack of marauding grizzlies who have out of hibernation for years of ill treatment. After all, grizzlies in Alaska are truly unpredictable and deadly. Wolves, wild ancient dog ancestors, really aren't.
Anyway, there's another very similar movie in feel made a few years ago about men, escaped convicts, lost in the Tasmanian temperate rain forest. They don't have a chance, and the audience knows it, and they're picked off one by one just like the ten little European-Anericans here. It's much better. It doesn't use any flashbacks, characters don't burn calories in awkward sentimental reflection, and the enemy is not dog, he walks among them. It's called Van Diemen's Land. I recommend it.