‘The Grey’ Director Joe Carnahan on Life, Death & That Controversial Ending

Published 3 years ago by , Updated February 11th, 2012 at 12:54 pm,

Liam Neeson Grey Movie The Grey Director Joe Carnahan on Life, Death & That Controversial Ending

Director Joe Carnahan’s The Grey held on to the number three spot at the box-office and continues to gain critical praise (read our review). Open Road has already outlined plans to  re-release the film in October to remind the Academy of its potential (or at the very least Liam Neeson’s potential) as an Oscar contender.

After the release of his sophomore film, Narc, Carnahan had a highly publicized exit from Mission: Impossible 3 (the directors chair was taken over by J.J. Abrams) and went on to helm the action flicks Smoken’ Aces and The A-Team. When Face himself, Bradley Cooper, dropped out of The Grey due to a scheduling conflict, fellow A-Team alum Liam Neeson expressed his interest, much to the benefit of the film. Neeson is the embodiment of the alpha male in The Grey and the story hinges on our ability to believe in his strength and leadership.

The Grey uses the circumstances of the film (an oil drilling team crashes in Alaska and must face a pack of territorial wolves as they struggle to make their way through and survive) to explore the emotional, psychological and spiritual consequences of confronting death. We had the chance to sit down with the man behind this metaphysical exploration, Joe Carnahan, to talk about what inspired this return to his grittier, rough-edged and introspective roots.

Liam Neeson The Grey Movie The Grey Director Joe Carnahan on Life, Death & That Controversial Ending

Screen Rant: You looked at the wolves as mythical and metaphorical creatures in the film. The animatronics were purposefully larger than  actual wolves. How much of this movie did you mean to be literal and authentic and how much did you mean for it to be an emotional terrain?

Joe Carnahan: “The emotional content/quotient of this film is much more important to me than an ethnographic. I’m not making a nature film, it’s not an Attenborough film. I think the wolves are a facet of and thereby a force of nature, but they’re no different in my mind than the river, than the blizzard, than the cliffside. They are component parts of a whole, which is nature. And for all of its beauty there’s equal parts hostility. This is why I think the knee-jerk reaction from quote-unquote ‘the wolf people’ and the protesters [shows they] don’t even understand the movie that they’re criticizing. If anything, the wolves do pretty well in the movie. They kick a lot of ass. I never set out to demonize wolves; I love animals, I love dogs. If you look at a wolf long enough, it’s a dog. So there’s empathy. But if you crash-landed in a very territorial spot, in a really sensitive territorial spot, and you don’t think these things are going to come for you, you’re naïve and stupid and I’d like you to go out there and take your best shot.”

But it also brings man down the level of nature, and the wolves are more sentient and cognitive than the river or the mountains. They kind of have a plan and they execute it…and the humans revert back into their primal core.

JC: “Right. But I don’t think the wolves ever had a plan so much as there’s a threat, and we need to eradicate it. And you know there’s a moment in the film where the D.S. character (Frank Grillo) kind of howls up at these creatures only to have the alpha wolf say, ‘I’ll show you how to howl, pal.’ It’s also man’s intrusion on the natural world and industry, and the fact that we’re always encroaching on this thing (nature). So you’re right, they’re brought down to a primal level but at the same time, I think, are woefully incapable and unequipped to deal with that threat.”

The Grey Movie Interview Liam Neeson The Grey Director Joe Carnahan on Life, Death & That Controversial Ending

What made you want to make this movie?

JC: “A lot of things. I think I realized, especially after ‘A-Team,’ ‘Wait a minute – am I being viewed as a schmuck?’ There were a number of reasons I did the ‘A-Team,’ not the least of which was I couldn’t make this or ‘White Jazz’ or ‘Killing Pablo.’ I couldn’t make those movies. And after ‘Mission Impossible III’ – which again I left before I was fired – I had unfinished business. With The ‘A-Team’ it was like, ‘Alright I’m going to do a big popcorn movie and see how that feels. But I think my bread and butter has always been with films like this, or films like ‘Narc.’ So I’m not going to use this as a platform to suddenly make serious films. As much as I love Antonioni films, I love the ‘Three Stooges.’ I’m doing this thing right now at Fox called ‘Continue,’ and it’s ‘Groundhog Day’ as an action movie. I think it’s funny as shit. It’s completely, from DNA to bone structure, different from ‘The Grey’ but that doesn’t mean it’s something I wouldn’t do because now [I’ve] got to make serious films. I think I made this film to kind of prove to myself and whatever people are going to hire me in the future and the public at large that there’s a lot of different things I can do. If I can do a romantic comedy with women, that’s Everest to me.”

The Grey Carnahan The Grey Director Joe Carnahan on Life, Death & That Controversial Ending

Had you always envisioned Liam in the lead as Ottway?

JC: “No, you know what’s funny – it was always a younger Ottway and in various iterations early on, the younger actors couldn’t really conceive of themselves at 35 wanting to end their lives, or reaching critical mass where you’re like, ‘To hell with it, I’m out of here.’ So what was interesting was that it took a guy like Liam. And Liam was a happy accident; it was kind of wonderful that I was talking with him at a restaurant and I think both of us were half in the bag drunk, and I mentioned it and he said, ‘You think there’s something in there for me?’ He read it and it was one of those great moments. And now I can’t even conceive of anybody else playing him because he’s so brilliant and so spot on. And his character of Ottway, this is a guy who’s lived life, man. Who’s seen the highs and seen the lows. I don’t think you would have gotten that with a younger actor. If you’re not a guy like Liam, who’s this galvanizing presence who would lead those men, it would have been a much more fractious kind of undertaking, to try and bring all these disparate personalities together. It wouldn’t have worked.”


About that Ending (SPOILERS!!!)…

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  1. I think the editor’s comment was spot-on. The emotional high point of the film hit and it felt wrapped up. ***********SPOILER****************No need to show the wolf fight at the end.

  2. So they shot it, I really hope its on the Blu ray

  3. I can’t believe I didn’t stay until after the credits dammit.

  4. No way does it work with Cooper. Neison is a bad A. I give him huge props, he deserves an Oscar nod to boot.

  5. I probably should watch this then. I loved Narc, but got put off by the utter bork that was The A-Team “movie”. Ugh. Everyone deserves a second chance I s’pose.

  6. What’s so controversial about the ending? Is society such a suger and riddlin addled short attention span popcorn movie dummy society that everything must have specific closure and every level of society has to hold your hand through it because god forbid people think or emote on their own

  7. Saw this movie yesterday, I loved it. Liam Neeson is amazing and the film was filled with emotion and story. My friend didn’t care for the ending but we both came up with our own versions of what happened and I think that’s what most people will do and it’s a great way to end the movie.

  8. I saw the movie last night. It was good, but not nearly as good as I was expecting, after listening to all the hype. Neeson was the best thing about it. SPOILER: There are also two interesting plot twists, one of which I already knew and would have guessed anyway, concerning his wife. The other has to do with inadvertently walking toward something rather than away from it. The poem written by Neeson’s father was also eerily and ironically applicable to his situation…

  9. Rented Drive and saw the Grey the next day at the theater. The best movie of 2011 and the best (probably) of 2012 in a 48 hour period. Now where’s Taken 2?

  10. Just got back from watching this. Very, very bleak stuff. However, it was a powerful film. I found myself really liking all the characters and feeling for them. This is not a feel good movie, but one that I think people will enjoy, especially if they like good solid movies.

  11. Not sure just exactly what I saw after the credits rolled but figure that it was two panting bodies in mutual but terminal respect of each other. Neither creature really has all that much to prove…or live for.

  12. Really good questions followed by great insightful answers. The whole thing had a real conversational tone to it. One of the better interviews I’ve read with JC. Nicely done!

  13. **********SPOILERS!********* My take on the film was that the whole thing was imagined. Liam was on the IV not his wife. He died and the “crash” was purgatory. Hense, he knew what dying was like, the wolves acting the way they did (which is not how wolves act at all), the sparse cold dream like backdrop, the strange decisions they kept making, the philosophy, the flashbacks, the shouting at god and the ending being that no body gets to go home.

    A bit like Jacob’s Lader.

    Regards, Basho

  14. Logically, if it was Purgatory, Neeson’s character would have already face his judgement and stood before Our Lord. I don’t think he’d go on to curse Him after standing before Him and his monologue about there being nothing after death wouldn’t make sense, either. If he was in Purgatory, he’d already know that there is life after death.

  15. O common this is a cheap shot of replicating the movie “INCEPTION”… Remember the controversial ending guys?

  16. thats bs i dont care how much the director cares about trying to hard, this movie NEEDS an alternate ending, it ruined the movie for all of me and my friends, i almost cried because of the non existent ending, it would have made millions of more $ with that ending, and apart from that it would have been no doubt thee best movie made in a long time right next to any movie