The wolves are out to get you. I know, it surprised me too, but that’s the premise of The Grey, coming to movie theatres all over North America. A plane crashes in the frozen North, and the survivors battle the forbidding elements – and wolves.
Northerners will roll their eyes at this, knowing that out in the communities, wolves may eat dogs that are left tied up outside like take-out food or running around unsupervised. But the danger nipping at our heels out in the backcountry does not come from ravenous wolf packs, even and especially if you’ve just survived a plane crash. It’s a lot more insidious and subversive than that, something we cannot escape because we carry it inside ourselves: wrong decision making.
Such as heading out without an extra set of clothes and high-energy food. Not bringing along snowshoes for a snowmobile ride and getting miserably stuck in the middle of nowhere when the machine quits. Leaving the compass, GPS and first aid kit at home, but no itinerary with a responsible person. Overestimating ourselves. And on and on.
Now, of course, movies are meant to entertain and thrill, and many if not most have only a feeble grasp on reality. What I dislike about this one is its propagation of the myth that wolf packs hunt, kill and eat humans, particularly in the light of wolf-control programs that already play on people’s emotions. It is very unfortunate when a potential blockbuster comes down on the “wolves are out to get you” side of the issue.
What is this fascination southerners have with “the dangerous wilderness”? I’d really love to see the tables turned. How about the harrowing tale of Backwoods Joe, a stereotypical Yukoner, getting stranded in Toronto? Joe, clad in felt-lined rubber boots, stained jeans and his ancient duct-taped jacket, must fight for survival on the traffic and people-choked streets of the city.
The odds are stacked against him. Right away, security guards shove him out of the airport, accusing him of panhandling. Grateful not to have been tasered, Joe goes looking for help. But people hasten by with grim looks on their faces, nobody looking, waving, or smiling at him. This can only mean one thing: they are out to get him.
Scared for his life, Joe crosses the street to head northwest, to make his way home on foot if need be. A minivan barrels down on him, intent on peeling at least four layers of skin off him. Rubber still smokes on the street as Joe manages to stagger up to some trees, gasping in shock. But the blood thirst of city people does not stop in parks. Before he knows it, two yapping dogs the size of gophers sink their teeth into his gumboots, while their unconcerned owners nurse five-dollar cups of coffee.
Having barely shaken off the attack dogs, Joe is accosted by a crazy-eyed drug addict who demands money without offering to load Joe’s groceries into his car. Not that he has groceries or his rusty pickup with him in this desperate pit of hell. Fishing out a nickle, a toonie and a wad of Canadian Tire money, Joe throws his cash at the guy and runs for his life.
Nighttime offers a reprieve as our hero builds a cozy lean-to in a remote corner of the park, snaring a squirrel for dinner with the shoelaces from the top of his gumboots. Racked with a smog-induced cough, he falls into an uneasy sleep. The next morning finds him ducking throngs of suits, talking into thei r palms and space. Narrowly escaping the stomping steps of this army of zombies, Joe fears he might be hallucinating when he sees a raven-haired woman in well-worn clothes at a street corner.
Could it be…? And indeed, it is – a fellow Yukoner. The two immediately narrow down the field of common acquaintances to 35, fall in love, and by combining their survival skills, manage to make their successful get-away from Toronto. The movie ends with Joe and his lady happily settled in a Yukon log cabin, listening to the howling of wolves while the northern lights play in the skies.
Now that’s a movie I’d love to watch.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.