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

Screen Rant: The film is kind of open-ended with what happens to Liam. What’s your interpretation?

JC: "I’m more interested in your interpretation. The very basic thesis is, 'As important as it is how you live, it’s equally important how you die.' People say, 'What does the title mean?' That’s it, it’s the grey. It’s the grey area. It’s between life and death, this nebulous thing that you don’t really understand. There’s an Easter Egg, there’s one shot at the very end, post-credits. So what does this mean? You tell me. I have one word; I think it’s harmony. That’s what that shot is, and whatever you want to extrapolate from that is up to you. It’s something my wife said early on: They thought that everybody died in that crash and all those guys were just facets of Liam’s personality, and that all those conversations were imagined. He’s the only one that lived. I thought, that’s brilliant. Great! [Laughs] When people start making their own attachments, that’s brilliant. My only hope for the film is that it plays beyond the two hours it takes for you to watch it."

How much did you actually write and shoot that final sequence? In the trailer you have this sequence where he’s putting the bottles on his fingers and preparing to do battle with the wolf, and there’s an interesting absence of seeing the fruition of that in the film itself.

JC: "Oh, I shot it. It’s funny, because Roger Bart, this very fantastic and brilliant editor who cut 'The A-Team' for me and 'Transformers' – Roger comes on from that background, the big action, but he also did some of his best work in his career on this film. We were all talking and we all sort of came to the same conclusion. He was like, 'The emotional conclusion has already happened. If you now attempt to do this other thing [the wolf fight], I think it’s going to feel superfluous. It’s going to feel like you’re trying to hard.' We did a test screening and there was this really kind of enraged group of guys in Woodland Hills. One guy’s like, 'Goddamit this movie was building up to that fight and I want to see it!' and the guy’s like, 'I hate the movie because of that!' Then they asked, 'Show of hands, how many people would talk about this movie the next day?' This guy’s hand goes up. 'How many people if you saw it on a Friday would you still talk about it on Monday?' This guy’s hand goes up. Like, that’s it right there, man! There doesn’t need to be any more than that, and I felt it would be a cheat. And the worst thing you can do is get to that point in the film and suddenly show something where you have to involve CG. If it doesn’t work you’re done. So that became a very conscious thing early on.'

On the metaphysical level, my read was that whatever these guys thought was going to happen with their death was what happened.

JC: "You mean your faith, whatever you think is waiting for you? I’ve said that, that is absolutely a spot-on assessment. I love that you said that, because I said that too. That’s what I’m hoping for in real life; I hope that whatever you are – Buddhist, Muslim, Christian – whatever you hold in your heart, I hope that’s what’s waiting for you. I swear to God, how great would that be? That’d be the greatest, man. If you believe that there’s a place where you can go and jam with Jimi Hendrix and have lunch with George Washington, I think that’s fucking great. I really do. I hope that that’s what it is, and I’m glad you made that connection."

You’ve said that you believe The Grey is your best film. Why so?

JC: "I think it’s the most complete film. Mature isn’t the right word; it has the most 'me' in it, I guess. How I think and how I feel, and all my fears, which are considerable, and all my insecurities, which are even more considerable. I feel really, really fortunate and really grateful that I got to make this film. It just doesn’t happen enough where you make something that’s actually meaningful to you, that you can look at people with and say, 'This is how I feel about the world. This is what I think about things. These are the things that scare me. These are the things that are important to me.' I think that’s why. And it doesn’t necessarily affix itself to any one genre. It just… it is. I’m very proud of it."

The Grey is in theaters now.

Follow me on twitter @jroth

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