In the movie The Grey, John Attway (the protagonist played by Liam Neeson) is a grizzled wolf hunter. He works for an oil pipeline and protects the employees from wolf attacks, which (according to the movie) are common in the wild of Alaska.
The movie begins with this motley crew of workers getting ready to fly home after a completed pipeline project.
But before John gets on the plane, he contemplates suicide. The only thing he wants is to be reunited with his wife but he knows it's futile. Life has become so seemingly meaningless to him because of this that he figures the only way out is to take his own life.
He's moments away from pulling the trigger when something compels him to hang onto life for one more moment...
John ends up getting on the plane.
On the flight back, the plane malfunctions, and a hideous crash ensues - only a handful of people survive, including John.
It doesn't take long before a pack of wolves attacks the survivors. To make matters worse, a blizzard rolls in.
John, the most "survival savvy" of the crew that remains, recognizes the only way to survive is to move outside the kill radius of the wolves, which can be up to 300 miles. He picks a direction - the treeline - and heads for it.
What follows is a desperate struggle for survival against blood-thirsty wolves and the terrible ferocity of nature.
The Struggle for Survival
When you witness the plane crash, the forlorn escape out of the wilderness, and all the terrible things that transpire, one after another, you almost feel like maybe John should have just pulled the trigger - that just "ending it all" would have been the easier way out to the final destination.
If life is going to be so hard, why deal with it?
Toward the end of the movie, when John is exhausted and alone with only an ounce of life left in him, he begs God to save him.
At this point, he's the only person still alive - the rest of his crew got picked off one by one over the course of the last few days. John's done everything he could to help them survive, but ultimately couldn't protect them. And now, after a terrible and brutal few days, he just wants the struggle to be over...
He falls to his knees and begs: "Do something...show me something! I need it now, not later!"
He is asking for a sign; he's asking for a lifeline...
For a moment, he stares into the sky. He waits. He prays.
"**** it," he says, "I'll do it myself."
He picks himself up and keeps walking.
He marches deeper into the brush, hoping to find a clear path home...
And once again he runs into wolves...but this time something is different.
After days of trying to escape the ruthless and destructive path of this enemy, after running for miles through the harsh wilderness desperately trying to survive, John finds himself in the wolf's den: the exact epicenter - the root - of all this death and destruction.
Instead of escaping their kill radius, John walked right into the heart of it.
The Last Good Fight I'll Ever Know
So there he is, surrounded.
The Alpha wolf waits for him to make a move; John knows it's over -- checkmate.
Calmly, John pulls out a picture of his wife, kisses it, and reflects on a memory of her in a hospital bed, right before she passed away.
Next, he pulls out his father's poem. John's father was a soldier, a warrior, and a tough man -- but "not without love" as John would say. John has kept his father's poem in his wallet his entire life - a poem that clearly means a lot to him. He reads it one last time:
"Once more into the fray,
Into the last good fight I'll ever know.
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day."
It's a warriors poem.
It's a message for the fighter, for the soldier, for the gladiator...
It's a battle cry.
John could have given up at any point throughout the journey, including now, but he doesn't.
And at the end of it all, he enters the wolf's den and squares off against the Alpha wolf.
He takes out his knife and goes into battle one last time.
Stand and Fight
So here's a person who, even after everything falls apart around him, keeps fighting.
He keeps fighting for a simple reason: because that's what a warrior does.
And this final fight, in the wolf's den (the symbolic end or finality of things) against the Alpha wolf (the physical manifestation of fear), John doesn't submit.
He stands and fights.
It might seem like a pointless fight - after all, there's no way he can win, so why try?
And therein lies the beauty of the story: John wants to be reunited with his wife who has passed away, but he also wants to uphold the virtues of the warrior, the virtues instilled in him by his father.
The warrior does not quit. The warrior does not find a cheap exit (suicide). The warrior doesn't run and hide...
For the warrior, what better end is there than one last battle with a great enemy?
Once More Into the Fray
Here's the deal - life's not about surviving; it's neither the goal nor the purpose.
If it were, we'd all lose - no exceptions.
So if your life is nothing more than surviving: skating by at a dead-end job; accepting your status in the rat race and unhappily climbing a ladder you despise; spending 50% of your waking hours - 50% of your life - doing something you hate because that's the only option you think you have...
Well then you've already lost, haven't you?
On the other hand, if life is for something greater...
And if each day you live to create, to love and serve others, to do everything in your power to make yourself and your world better (not the whole world, just YOUR world)...
If each day you keep moving toward your goal, no matter how arduous the journey, no matter how difficult the struggle, no matter how terrible the battle...
If each day you can muster the strength to fight the enemy that stands in front of you -- to fight YOUR wolf...
Well, then it doesn't matter if you survive because you've already won.
You've won because you've entered the fray, and that's what a warrior does, and that's what a warrior is supposed to do.
Live and Die On This Day
In a poetic and beautiful way, that's what John did in his last moments...
The movie starts with John moments away from death -- at his own hands -- the coward's way out, not the warriors...
The movie ends with John moments away from death -- in one last good fight with a great enemy -- the warrior's way out, not the cowards...
Were John's pleas to God ignored -- or was he given the very thing he wanted most of all; a last good fight and a warrior's death?
Real recognize real, as they say -- and a warrior knows the answer...
Step Into The Fray One More Time Today
So what are my final reflections on this movie?
Well, as a soldier and a fighter myself, it cuts deep. I get it in a way that I am incapable of explaining (this article is my best effort, and it falls short).
And as a writer, author, and entrepreneur, well -- the creative struggle is real...
And it's universal.
I'm not talking about the carefree painter who paints without direction - who paints to paint - and whatever turns out, turns out.
I'm talking about the creative struggle of creating with purpose - for a purpose.
- The design of the perfect user interface...
- The structure and pacing of the perfect novel...
- The building and cultivating of the best possible family, community, and nation...
These things are hard as hell to create.
And the journey alone can make you want to quit, to throw in the towel, to simply accept whatever life throws at you instead...
After all, if the enemy is too great to beat, why fight in the first place?
And therein lies the point and the purpose.
Great things require great sacrifice. Therefore, the greatest thing requires the greatest sacrifice...
So when you feel like quitting because the battle seems impossible to win, remember:
Great enemies are the only enemies worth fighting.
Here's to entering the fray. Each day. Every day. No matter what.
Stay strong and keep creating.