Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet posted earlier this afternoon about reactions to the ending of Joe Carnahan‘s The Grey, so I thought I’d kick it around also. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Some have reportedly complained about the finale being unclear, but it’s obvious that Liam Neeson gets killed by the wolves. A guy reciting macho poetry to himself (“Once more into the fray…live or die on this day”) as he faces a growling threat is surely toast. Carnahan chooses not to show anything, but its a bit like Gary Cooper anticipating death at the end of For Whom The Bell Tolls, and feeling half terrified and half exhilarated.

This is obviously a ballsy finale because it defies conventional expectations about the dominant alpha male always surviving, and I admire that. I thought Carnahan was finished after The A-Team, and then he comes back with this…impressive. Almost too impressive. Because at the same time the Grey ending is faintly irksome and unfulfilling because there’s no particular payoff or satisfaction in watching an alpha male go down. I’d become used to death, you see, with all the other plane-crash survivors getting their throats torn to shreds so it was kind of a so-whatter.

We know how survival tales play out. Black and Hispanic guys never make it to the end. Sensitive dads and brainy types also have to die. Ditto old guys. But the strongest male always makes it to the finish and gets to exhale and savor the victory against nature and the elements. So I’m asking myself what exactly is interesting about Neeson being slaughtered at the finish? And I really can’t come up with an answer.

We all want to survive and fend off predators and live another day. We understand that we’ll eventually lose the battle and die, but in stories like this we all want the tough alpha male to make it through somehow. Because if he doesn’t make it, it means that fortitude and strength and canniness are meaningless. It means that survival is mainly about luck. And a movie that tries to sell this idea is not doing anything arresting or stirring. It’s just telling me, “Well, his string ran out, and tough shit.”