NOTE: As if the headline wasn't warning enough, the ending to The Grey will be spoiled in this post, and most likely further in the comments, so if you haven't seen the movie it may be best to stay away from this post until you have.
I mentioned in Sunday's box-office wrap-up how I went over to IMDb's message boards over the weekend and saw several people upset with the ending of The Grey in which Liam Neeson's character stumbles into the wolves' den and knuckles up for some man vs. wolf action. Just before the fur flies, director Joe Carnahan cuts to black and the film ends. This decision has left several miffed...
From what I can gather, there are two different camps upset with this ending. The first is upset the scene that dominated conversation from the trailer, in which Neeson breaks tiny liquor bottles and tapes them to his knuckles before taking on the Alpha wolf, not only comes at the very end of the film, but is cut short and never delivered.
I can understand this frustration, primarily because the audience was sold on the belief what comes next would be a part of the movie and this kind of imagery was the #1 reason they plunked down their money in the first place. Okay, age-old complaint, moving on...
Now, the other camp is upset because the film ends at this point without offering up what they believe was the film's climax and therefore without it the film is incomplete. And I doubt they are any more satisfied by the end credits scene, which is equally, if not more so, ambiguous. This group's sentiments are on display in a comment from an IMDb user by the name of "joehult" who posts:
I agree, just end your *beep* movie...
I wasted my two hours and $10, the very least you can give us a definitive answer. If I'm suppose to use my own interpretation, I would have written my own script.
This isn't the first time in recent history that trailers have misled audiences so I'm not particularly interested in that argument, but I am interested in the latter conversation and the insistence by some that a film must absolutely spell and/or show everything to the audience to the point there is nothing left to discover on our own.
Personally, I felt the ending worked. Neeson's character is dead just as the poem he read sums up the entire film:
Into the last good fight I'll ever know.
Live or die on this day.
Live or die on this day.
I mean, come on, there isn't much ambiguity left after that is there? If you want reason as to why Carnahan went this way, he discussed the scene with the DailyBlam and said:
"I had a different version of the ending that we shot that's this big blowout with Liam and the wolf... maybe I'll put it out as a deleted scene. I didn't want to hand feed anything to the audience, I want to make them think about the film and extrapolate their own conclusion. But there's a scene that plays after the credits that's really fun. I did that for pure artistic expression. [People] that we've shown it to cheered."
My gut instinct tells me Carnahan is shying just a little from one of the reasons the fight was never actually shown. My guess would be the fight between Neeson and the wolf probably ended up looking a little cheesy and far less climactic than originally anticipated and at that point nothing could live up to expectation or what the audience could imagine on their own.
Up to that point in the film, most of the wolf vs. human fight sequences were shot at night, featuring gory close-ups of the action rather than what would have been required of that scene had he actually shown it. In short, I think it's a good thing it was cut from the film for those reasons, but even more so because how would it have helped and where would the film have gone from there?
Imagine a scenario where we see Neeson die fighting the wolf. What next? Do we get cliched voice over of his wife telling him it will be okay? Do we get a voice over of him once more reading, "Live and die on this day"? Would that kind of cliched ending really satisfy you?
What if he lives? Would we see him Medevaced to safety just in the nick of time? How would that have spoken to the larger theme of the story?
Had either of those scenarios actually played out on film do you honestly believe the ending would have actually been better? Would it have improved the film?
Of course, now I am asking you to imagine scenarios, which if you are in the camp that's upset at the ending you don't even want to think of what could have happened. You would prefer not to do any of the thinking for yourself. You paid your $10, but you didn't pay for story, you paid solely to watch Liam Neeson fight a wolf. That is a mindset I have no argument against.
The concept of "give the audience everything and leave nothing to the imagination" is the new Hollywood motto. I even believe The Grey gives us too much. I'd actually argue with Carnahan saying that, outside of the film's ending, he did "hand feed" the audience far too much back-story and too many flashbacks as I discussed in my review. This is actually why the ending is one of the best parts of the film.
Was the ending ambiguous? Yes, in that it didn't show you what happened. Is that necessarily a bad thing? I would agree it doesn't work for all films, but I think it works for this one just as it worked for... The Wrestler to name only one.