‘The Grey’ sacrifices wolves on altar of blockbuster profits

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It’s a scenario right out of one of the worst nightmares of humanity. Recent blockbuster “The Grey” depicts an oil drilling team and a depressive wolf hunter (Liam Neeson), stranded in Alaska after a plane crash, who are stalked by a malicious pack of wolves. The pack intends to kill and eat every last member of the group. There’s one problem with this thrilling scenario: it’s utterly absurd.

“The notion of a pack of wolves having evil intent, wanting to kill a pack of humans, is preposterous. It’s simply not credible,” said Associate Professor of Biology and department chair Delbert Hutchison.

Documented cases of humans killed by wolves in North America are very rare––until 10 years ago, there were no documented cases whatsoever. Despite the true numbers, wolves remain a terrifying, man-eating monster in the minds of many––an image that “The Grey” hardly helps.

“What’s problematic about this, from a philosophical standpoint, is here we have wolves in North America trying to make a comeback,” said Hutchison. “It’s already controversial and now this is just . . . the producers or screenwriters, I don’t think they have any political agenda, I’d be surprised if they even care that much. It packs theaters. But it has the negative side effect of giving people a false idea of what wolves are. The public is already vastly ignorant of the natural world.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies Patrick Belanger, who recently discussed the film in his Environmental Communication course, offered similar sentiments regarding the likelihood of the scenario.

“If you happened to crash in northern British Columbia in the winter, you’re more likely to die from, first of all, the plane crash, second of all, from sheer cold and exposure and hunger,” said Belanger. “It is exceedingly unlikely that a wolf will eat you. We were also discussing the fact that the director of this movie is Ridley Scott. Do you know Ridley Scott? He did ‘Aliens.’ In ‘The Grey,’ aliens and wolves serve the exact same purpose––they’re a stand-in for a primeval fear of predators and monsters, so you could as easily have aliens instead of wolves in this depiction. The key motivating factor is that wolves are somehow sexy, if you had hippopotamuses chasing someone in the Sahara Desert, it wouldn’t be as exciting, but you’re more likely to be killed by a hippopotamus than a wolf.”

Sophomore Ann Chen, founder of Whitman’s Film Production Club, addressed the complex relationships between filmmakers’ artistic license, political responsibility and the audience’s perception of reality.

“I do not think a filmmaker has an obligation to present issues of current political sensitivity with accuracy,” wrote Chen in an email. “If filmmakers are confined to produce ‘accurate’ films, then we may all be watching documentary films rather than having the options of seeing creative, imaginative movies. Moreover, even documentary films are not completely ‘accurate’ because every shot is consciously chosen by the director, with a clear subjective message from start to finish. Also, I don’t think ‘The Grey’ is meant to be a propaganda film that aims toward making people think a certain way. [The] audience has to think for themselves, and it is their responsibility to distinguish fiction from nonfiction, facts from opinions and story from reality.”

However, when audiences fail to remain critical, Hollywood demonizations of predator species can lead to unfortunate side effects for conservation efforts. Belanger discussed the potential implications of negative misconceptions regarding gray wolves for the species’ tenuous recovery.

“This week, the Oregon House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee passed a bill that would allow the killing of wolves in response to the repeated killing of livestock. One need only look to the example of ‘Jaws’ and its correlation with the mass slaughter of global shark populations to appreciate the possible implications of an inaccurate, yet popularized representation of a species,” said Belanger.

Hutchison remained unmoved by the film’s sensationalizing and star power.

“It’s a stupid, stupid movie and I refuse to go see it,” he said.