Badly injured and pursued by a vicious pack of rogue wolves, "Diaz" sat against a log to await his death in the remote Alaskan wilderness.
Up until this time, the oil-rig roughneck played by actor Frank Grillo had been the most abrasive of the eight airplane crash survivors. He had defied and threatened the group's leader "John Ottway" (played by actor Liam Neeson) with a knife. As the men pondered the eternal fates of those who died in the crash, Diaz scoffed at the notion of an afterlife, describing it all as a "fairy tale."
But now, one of only three survivors not picked off by the merciless wolves, Grillo's character has gone through a great spiritual arc – transformed from a morally dissolute ex-con who had "never really done anything for anyone else" to someone now willing to sacrifice himself so the others might escape the approaching wolves.
"This is a guy who I don't think ever experienced altruism in his life," Grillo told tothesource. "Knowing that his life was pretty much done, he sat down to make the other two guys continue on without him, believing that was the only way they might have a fighting chance."
This scene, which ends with Diaz turning toward the breathtaking mountains of Alaska for an emotional confession to God, is just one of several segments in director Joe Carnahan's The Grey that explores existential questions about faith, death and the afterlife.
While the rough language used by the riffraff and journeyman jobber characters in the R-rated film is not for the faint of heart, the movie departs from other survival dramas like The Perfect Storm in which the characters facing death don't give a thought to the meaning of their lives or eternal fates.
"There are no prayers uttered in survival films like The Perfect Storm and Cast Away," says Craig Detweiler, the director of the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University. "So, The Greys shows how far Hollywood has come in dignifying the ultimate questions that haunt all of us when our lives are threatened. Does God exist? Is life after death a possibility? What is the route to heaven?"
In The Grey: A Film Companion guide distributed to churches and other groups, the authors described the movie as an excellent vehicle for discussion in men's, young men's, recovery, sports and outdoor ministries – offering an opportunity to "discover the many ways in which they can better face a life in which spiritual warfare – the battle for our individual souls – is a hard reality."
Tom Allen, a partner at Allied Faith & Family in Hollywood – a company that provided more than $10 million in distribution-expense financing for The Passion of the Christ and has produced film and Bible study guides for movies such as Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Warrior - says The Grey is filled with "spiritual warfare elements."
"In The Grey, you see a lot of direct metaphors regarding the spiritual battles we face in life," Allen says. "We are not dealing with flesh and blood, but principalities and powers, as the Scriptures say. And the wolves are very clearly the demons that are surrounding us and with whom we need to be prepared to do battle."
The film, which critics describe as a "man's man's movie," begins at a refinery in Alaska where the hard-edged, foul-mouthed workers break down crude oil for commercial use. The group of jobbers heading out on vacation encounter a violent storm, which causes their plane to crash in the Alaskan wilderness. All on board are killed except for eight survivors who head toward civilization pursued by a pack of mysterious wolves. During the journey, as the wolves pick off the survivors one by one, the men work out their relationships and issues with each other and God.
"I thought the film was very engaging in the way that these regular guys, these regular working men, are forced to deal with their core beliefs," Allen says. "The challenges they are facing forces them into a position to determine what they believe in. I think it's very meaningful for those kinds of conversations to break out in our culture because we can too easily get away from questions about the meaning of life and the questions of God and the devil, life and death, heaven and hell and faith or atheism."
Following the plane crash and questions about the eternal fates of those who died, Neeson's character, Ottway, affirms his atheistic views, saying, "It's this world I'm worried about, not the next." But near the end of the movie, Ottway rages at God, beseeching His help to escape the wolves.
"He's dealing with the question of God and faith in his personal moment of truth," Allen says. "You could argue that he rejects God and consequently winds up in the wolves' den. Maybe in this part of the movie what director Joe Carnahan is trying to say is that this is the consequence of rejecting God."
Like the stories of many characters in the Bible, The Grey doesn't have a happy ending. Rather, the movie focuses the viewer's attention on the great questions and the last things in life.
"If you read the Bible at any level, you discover pretty quickly that most Biblical characters don't end well," says Phil Cooke, president and creative director of Cooke Pictures. "I believe one of the greatest reasons the Bible has endured is that it's real, and tells the truth about living. The Bible doesn't gloss over or provide easy answers to life's challenges. Hollywood could learn something from that idea."
Grillo, who also starred in the critically-acclaimed action drama Warrior with Nick Nolte, Minority Report with Tom Cruise and Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson, was deeply moved by the experience of making the film. He was especially inspired by the scene in which his character is faced with his own demise. That part of the movie was filmed along a stream in a spot surrounded by mountain peaks and quieting snow – a place in nature "which for me is the closest thing to God."
"I grew up with a heavy influence of Christ in my life but got away from it," Grillo says. "It wasn't that I didn't believe in God, it's just that I didn't think He believed in me. I went through some beautiful moments in making this film. To prepare for my final scene, Joe and I talked about our lives and what we believed in, and we wept. It was a monumental thing to do this movie. It got me thinking about my faith again."