April 14, 2012 -- This movie starts off with the main character putting a gun to his head, having decided his life has no meaning or purpose. After that, the story starts getting depressing.
The film is basically a wilderness survival test, a crucible which burns away the veneer of civilization from a small group of plane crash survivors in a remote Alaskan wilderness. Led by a professional hunter, Ottway (played by Liam Neeson of “Taken”) the group of seven undertakes a desperate journey on foot to rescue itself from the cold, snowy wilderness. All the while the group is pursued by a pack of wolves which picks off them off one by one.
Along the way, the men talk about what keeps them going, love, family, religion, or just pure stubbornness. Some men believe in an afterlife, some do not. Some find meaning in their survival battle and their surroundings. Some reflect on the meaning of their lives up to this point. There are hints of the meaning of life and even afterlife in these men's struggles. There are dreams and visions which soar beyond the brutal reality of their existence.
At one point, one of the men cuts the head off a wolf the men have killed and eaten and hurls it in the direction of the wolf pack, yelling “We are the real animals.” He's wrong, of course, the unarmed humans are in the wolves territory. Humans may be the top predator on the planet, but without guns or spears or swords or other formidable weapons, wolves are a more than a match for a small band of ill-equipped men. There is a brief fight between Ottway and another man who is mouthing off with a false sense of bravado. Ottway quickly defeats the braggart, who apologizes and admits his fear.
The film raises a lot of questions about the meaning of life and death, but provides no easy answers. It is a grim, pitiless film with plenty of blood and gore. Men are eaten alive by wolves. The wolf attacks are very sudden and loud. In some scenes, the wolves make a lot of noise, sounding like cattle clomping through the trees. At other times, they sneak up on the men undetected. It is all very chilling and creepy. Here in Wyoming there are wolf packs running free. It may be this primal fear of wolves, as shown in this film, which informs the “shoot on sight” policy favored in this state.
Animal rights groups have attacked this film because it doesn't portray wolves as warm, cuddly dogs. Some say it portrays wolves accurately. Some say it does not. I'm no expert on this, so I'll leave that argument to others. What this film does do is bring men down to the level of animals as far as survival goes, at least. It is not just about wolves, though. It is about human existence stripped down to its bare essentials. You could replace the wolves with people, lions or jackals, or just the elements, and it would be essentially the same story. This is about people confronting the most basic, essential aspects of life and death.
This is a very depressing film for obvious reasons, but it is also a film that will make you think about it long after it is over. There is an additional scene after the credits roll, so don't leave early. This was a bit of a chore for me to sit through. I much prefer more uplifting fare. This film rates a C.
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