Winter’s clutches are finally easing. I can feel the pressure release as the sun warms my corner of Western Massachusetts. And yet there is still a chilling feeling that no heat source can vanquish. That feeling is the grip of survival and it is far less prevalent this April than last, but I would be lying if I said it did not exist. My movements throughout the day are so much more…calculated. It truly does remind me of a survival situation where the slightest slip-up can mean doom. Navigating the pandemic may seem totally dissimilar to walking away from a crashed plane in the wilderness, but I have been drawing parallels for a year.
Such mental gymnastics might explain why I’ve been watching movies where heroes stare down the spectacle of nature. I began the pandemic much like my fellow MMH contributor, Teresa, watching different types of disaster movies. Now I want to see frigid temperatures and the will to walk out. Those earlier options became too real. I want my allegories at arm’s length. I want solace in the human spirit or at least natural punishment. Nature didn’t put us in this state, we did this. Our hubris. As a result, I am forced to spend a lot of time alone, thinking about trading in my computer for a box of matches or a flare. I never want to ask myself if I can survive a pandemic again. I would rather ask myself if I could do what it takes to make it home when lost.
In order to feed this intrigue within me I cued up two movies that I knew I had seen before, most likely both on TNT, and yet I also hardly remembered outside of the movie trailer moments: The Grey and The Edge.
The Grey is a survival movie released in 2011, written by Joe Carnahan and Ian MacKenzie Jeffers (based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Jeffers), directed by Carnahan, and starring Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, and Nonso Anozie.
The Edge is a survival movie released in 1997, written by David Mamet, directed by Lee Tamahori, and starring Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Harold Perrineau, and Bart the Bear.
These two films do have their similarities. Both feature the classic man vs nature narrative archetype. Both maintain an element that hope and flame are the two most sacred sparks. Both star actors over 50 who were not known for action early on in their careers. Both completely neglect the role of women in society. Still, what drew me to contrast these films was their differences. As such, I have created a completely scientific set of categories through which to break down these two adventures. I want to determine which movie is the sole survivor–in my esteem.
SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS AHEAD! CHOO CHOO!
This is a tough category, so clearly the best one to start with. It is not difficult because of the material, but more because of the observer. You know how Beethoven was practically deaf and yet was a savant when it came to music? I’m the opposite. My hearing is fine and I have no musical understanding. Still, the score is kind of important in movies, so I will do my best.
As I mentioned at the top, these are very different movies. Thus, their scores are very different. In comparing them, I’m using the metric of cinematic fit and effect on me.
The Grey’s score, by Marc Streitenfeld, is absolutely haunting. Eerie piano tones feel like they are pounding in the emotional themes. As much as it is somber, it retains a note of hope, like a mist rising off a frigid lake.
The score of The Edge, by Jerry Goldsmith, is sweeping, orchestral, and downright hopeful. It contains the majesty of the mountains, the fear of these men, and dwindling hope. The main refrain is almost foreshadowing survival as it slides in like warm sun spreading up my back.
Upon rewatching it, I was surprised how much Goldsmith’s work stuck with me. That being said, I like everything about The Grey. The music rattled my bones, not from volume, but from cold loneliness. In the end, I noticed the scoring of Edge more, but Grey stuck with me.
The Verdict: The Grey
Best Use of Poetry
Yeah, clearly The Grey wins this one as it has a poem as one of the main elements of the whole thing. And Neeson reciting “Into the Frey” is stirring every time. I say every time because they do repeat it. Maybe one time too many? Still, easy victory.
The Verdict: The Grey
If I have to watch people die, stripped of their humanity and often their flesh, at least make the scenery beautiful, am I right? Both films are set in the Alaskan wilderness. However, The Edge subbed in many locations in Canada, primarily Alberta. The Grey used the Ninth Circle of Hell–wait, I read that wrong, British Columbia. I’m kidding, Canada, it just looks rough.
Grey looks like a real tough spot. The filmmakers do an amazing job of hammering out just how bleak it would be. Their premier achievement, for me, was making this expansive land feel claustrophobic because of the ever-encroaching threats of the wolves and the weather. Yes, there are moments of beauty, but they are few and far between.
Edge was filmed in some of the most beautiful locations in the world. Like, places I want to go for recreation. Therefore, the attempts to make the environment one of the major dangers always fall a step short with me. It might surprise you to know that I loved that. I wanted more sweeping shots of mountain ranges and gorgeous lakes. Plus, it was just dangerous enough to matter.
The Verdict: The Edge
Best Use of a Female Character
This is a joke. There are two women in Grey, both only make appearances in flashbacks, are only used as motivation for the male characters, and one of them is dead before the movie even begins. I suppose that isn’t true. There is a flight attendant that gets thrown out of the crashing plane. Unfortunate.
Edge does have Elle Macpherson playing Anthony Hopkins’ trophy wife. She gets a couple of lines and she is an excellent bait to dangle in between rivals Alec Baldwin and Hopkins. It’s the type of role that women had to take in the 90s and it is not rewarding. There isn’t enough development of the infidelity angle to really give any meat to the meager lines Macpherson is given. She’s there to be seen from far away in a photoshoot. In the end, she’s not even a sympathetic character. Real tough.
The Verdict: No one wins.
Best (Worst) Death of a Black Character That is Telegraphed Because of Racism
Just because both movies neglected roles for nonmale performers, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t include any nonwhite characters, right? Yes, technically. Both movies do give some screen time to Black characters. Except that even as recently as 2011 everyone knew those characters were going to end up dead. If someone is yelling at their computer, “Everyone died in The Grey!” I hear you. I just want to believe that since the role of John Ottway was originally thought of for someone like Bradley Cooper before Neeson got the part, that maybe someone wondered if Denzel Washington could have done this.
As for Edge, I mentioned that I had seen this movie before. I had no recollection that Harold Perrineau’s Stephen was even in it. I knew he was bear food the minute he survived the plane crash. Predictable. At least in Grey, Anozie’s Burke gets the calm of dying of hypoxia in his sleep. Stephen is chomped and shredded alive.
The Verdict: Again, no one wins, other than white men, I should say.
Best Moment of 90s Unbelievability
Baldwin’s Bob and Hopkins’ Charles do succeed in killing the bear. I said there were spoilers. There is a scene after this where they are dining on bear meat and celebrating. And wearing ponchos and clothing made of the bear’s pelt. This is nuts. I can believe they survived the crash in the lake. I can believe the little tiny fire they make the first night fights off hypothermia while their clothes are wet. But to ask me to believe that these city slickers could learn how to perfectly tan a bear hide–without any of the modern materials used–in what looks to be…a day? An afternoon? That, sir, is a step too far. Long live 90s unbelievability.
The Verdict: Um, The Edge
Best Killer Animals
Woof–or should I say howl–another challenging one.
In Grey, the pack of grey wolves, fresh off the endangered list in America, is pursuing the group of surviving oil drillers. For most of the film, we are led to believe that they are maliciously picking off the men one by one. Then in the final scene, we realize the survivors have been trekking deeper into the wolves’ territory towards their den, thereby creating a touch of complexity to their motivation.
In my interpretation, the wolves were the manifestation of the men’s demons. The choices they made in life stalked them just like that Alpha. They were cunning, resilient, determined hunters. They were worthy foes and succeeded in their goal, at the cost of their lives. Like Jaws before it, the most effective moments of terror come when we cannot see the wolves. We know they are just beyond the light of the fire.
The bear that chases Hopkins and Baldwin’s character in Edge is a mighty challenge to overcome, but it is not the most significant one. Regardless, the performance of Bart the Bear in his penultimate film is remarkable. His scenes with human actors truly are electric. The sheer size of him is shocking.
I believe that the wolves were the better foils. Yet, Bart the Bear cannot be discounted.
The Verdict: Tie
Best (Again–Worst) Death
There are moments in The Grey I cannot shake. When Mulroney’s Talget falls from the tree and is dying, he hallucinates his daughter tickling him with his hair, a callback to an earlier scene. Thinking about it now, I still get that lump in my throat.
A few scenes later, Hendricks, played by Roberts, drowns after getting his foot stuck under a rock. That moment still sends shockwaves of horror up my spine. Talget’s death is the saddest, but this one is the worst.
In The Edge, Stephen has a horrible death. I already covered how messed up it is. Bob’s death is brought on by his own stupidity. I do not actually believe that, after everything they go through together, Bob would still try to kill Charles. That’s how it goes, though, and he gets to die a slow death as a result. If he were a more redeemable character, the timing of his death, right at their time of rescue, would be all the more tragic, but because of his actions, I was fine with it.
The Verdict: The Grey
I have touched on many of the characters in both films already. In the end, for this category, there are really only two survivors. Charles Morse, as played by Hopkins, and John Ottman, as played by Neeson. Both men play their parts wonderfully.
Hopkins brings twelve different layers to Charles. He is brilliant, able to recall intricate details from a book he just started reading. He is courageous, composed, and driven. His defining trait is his jealousy and it is that trait that is his main antagonist. This point is reinforced by the fact that the bear dies with 30 minutes left in the movie. Charles grows from a man ready to fly off the handle at a mechanic whom he believes to be ogling his wife, to a man able to forgive his rival for his wife’s affection, and a guy who tried to kill him.
Neeson brings the necessary gravitas to his role. The posture of Ottman tells a story. He acts as a source of optimism, of understanding, and of overall leadership for the men with him. He faces his demons while watching his fellow men fall to theirs. The anguish is etched on his face and yet he carries on. Then he fights a big wolf.
Neeson is awesome. He is not irreplaceable, however. There are other actors I could see succeeding in that part. Hopkins is something else. One of a kind.
The Verdict: The Edge
This is not a category. This is the end of the article.
Based on the categories, the movie that walks out of the wilderness alive is…both. It was a tie. I did not even mean to do that. It makes sense though. The best survival stories throw characters with differences together to see if they can make it work. These two films bring distinct advantages to their entertainment value and I enjoy them both so thoroughly, I do not need to pit them against each other.
This sentiment is a further reflection of my feelings on the Pandemic. We do not need to pit the public against itself. This is not a situation where one group survives at the sacrifice of another. Or at least it shouldn’t be that way.
If we work together and take some lessons from the tragic mistakes of some of these characters, we can recover. In the meantime, I will continue to escape into these types of adventures. If you haven’t seen either The Grey or The Edge I am thankful you have read this far and I do not believe I have spoiled enough as to make them unenjoyable. Let me know if you check them out in the comments. Or do you have a favorite survival movie, something I should watch next? Let us know on social media! Have a great day.