live and die on this day

That ^ is a line Phil Connors could appreciate.

It’s a line that invokes both timelessness and the temporality of life. You are born. You live. You die. The rest is details.

I made the mistake of a google search just now. I was on my phone just to check if anyone had a screencap of the IV drip from the end of The Grey—no one seemed to. If I remember, I will get the image after the movie is over by sticking the DVD in the computer...


(If there’s just a big white box or a blank space with a red X or whatever, that means I was too tired at the end of the movie to remember. Sorry.)

(If there’s a photo, that is because I am committed to doing this right and, damn the tiredness, I will have the image I want.)

I will explain the mistake in a moment. First, this:

I had been leaning the other way the last few days, wanting to continue this blog past this month, coming up with a way to free up what I’m doing but still have... something here every day, a movie every day. Then, tonight, listening to Wil Wheaton’s Radio Free Burrito podcast, I got to thinking about how nice it would be to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, or to write some fiction again instead of this, or to spend more time with my kids—I mean, yeah, they watch some of these movies with me but not every day when the movies repeat.

I would like to do something new. I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet. A podcast, a YouTube thing... I don’t know what all is involved. (The YouTube thing, I could get into without much prep, but then there’s the matter of filming... whatever it is, making it look good, look professional (or deliberately unprofessional). A quotation occurs to me. I recently came upon the following because of a regular respondent (and former bit of content) to this blog, Maolsheachlann. I’m sure he will reply below because he loves Chesterton (and recently called the following quotation “the single Chesterton quotation that stands out to [him] more than any other.” Anyway, this seems to be from a piece called What’s Wrong with the World:

The principle is this: that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.

There comes a time in any task, whether it was tedious to begin with or the most enjoyable thing around, that you might just grow tired. It isn’t that you want to quit. It isn’t that you need to be finished. It’s something... else. I find myself in an in-between stage, on the brink of finishing something, or on the verge of repeating it. A liminal space. A grey space. Purgatory.

The mistake above, by the way, was checking of other people’s theories about The Grey being about purgatory. Taking, three different individual’s takes on this topic—Ryan Pratt in a blog, stanfan114 on reddit, a handful of users at eBaum’s World—there is a similarity that differs from my take. They assume that Ottway killed himself at the start of the film. Bleak voiceover of his letter to his (presumably) dead wife, gets a drink at the bar, goes outside, puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. The rest of the film is what follows that suicide. Ottway is in purgatory, earning his way, perhaps, to something better.

That his letter just showed up, almost by chance, as he and the others are about to leave the crash scene would fit this theory. He needs to be reminded of his suicide, of his failure before God. He needs to prove that he values life, I guess.

But, then there’s this: I don’t think Ottway killed himself. He also doesn’t die at the end of the film. He was dead before the film even began. Like the Oscar-nominated short film, Fifty Percent Grey—awake to the afterlife.

I latched onto one particular detail in the film to get to this theory

(And, I generally hate fan theories. But, I’ve got to keep writing because I think I’ve got the notion in my head that I need to decide the future right now, that decisions must be made even though I’ve still got another week. The idea of being... free? Versus the notion that if I stop blogging I might not feel so much like I’ve got my shit together. We’re still waiting on divorce papers to get processed. My kids (and I) have psychological and emotional hurdles to deal with. And the fall quarter/semester is coming for us all. I’ve got my thesis to write,(and the coding bit of that is getting in the way of some straight research for what I see as “chapters” two and three of my thesis—some fairly straightforward research-paper-style material) and time keeps seeming too short. Each day seems shorter than the one before. Well, not literally, but also, sort of literally. As I get older, each day is a smaller percentage of my life than the one before it was. Each day is relatively, if not literally, shorter.

So, I get it in my head that I must keep writing, keep the words coming so that I—the person I am right now, even if I’m still not doing everything quite right—can keep going. I get it in my head that I have decided that I am a blogger. AM, present tense. It is an identifying marker, and one that I think I’m pretty good at being. Maybe I never got a huge audience, but does any blog these days? (Especially any blog that will get so damn wordy as this?)

In the film just now, Ottway admitted he was afraid, and accused Diaz of being so. I think I might be afraid that if I stop doing this blog, I won’t know what to do.

And, that’s a fucked up way to think about anything one does in life, really. It’s a perspective I’ve argued against before. Who I am, who you are—there is no permanence to it. Cells are replaced every—what? five years, or something. Or the atoms of our bodies are, anyway. We quite literally are not the same people we have been as time passes. Get into the psyche and there’s a whole other level to it. You are not the same person you were yesterday. I am not the same person I was the day before. The wolves of time come at us and we keep going, keep becoming. Future me is probably going to quote this in his Master’s Thesis, so I should try to word this just right. Or maybe I should just say it as it comes to me. Identity is never solid, always fluid. As Sam tells his father in Life as a House, “I am what I say I am.” I am a father. I am a teacher. I am a coach. I am a blogger (for now). But, more than any of those things, or maybe wrapped so tightly in all of those things that the definitions are inseparable, I am simply me.)

—the IV drip.

That was a long parenthetical, and I don’t want you to have to scroll back up to remember what I was saying. I was saying that I latched onto one particular detail in the film to get to my theory that the entire film (not just after Ottway’s suicide) is set in purgatory. That detail is the IV drip. See, Ottway keeps flashing back on two things—his father and that poem of his, and his wife in bed (presumably) dying. She tells him, “Don’t be afraid.” Yet we assume that she is the one dying. Sure, in his letter, he says, “You left me and I can’t get you back.” But, imagine that Ottway is dead, maybe he’s in a situation like Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense, doesn’t realize it. The shot at the end, a revelation for us maybe, but maybe a revelation for Ottway, realizing where he is, realizing that none of these wolves are real, none of these men are real (or maybe they’re going through their own purgatory alongside him)—we cut back from Ottway’s wife in the bed to a shot that includes the IV drip. Thing is, we cannot see that it is linked to her. In fact, it is on the the near side of the bed, where Ottway would have been lying for the POV shots. The IV, one could assume, was not hooked to Ottway’s wife at all, but rather Ottway. He died, and he died from disease of some sort. He died slow. He died painful. And he left his wife behind, alone. She told him not to be afraid because he was facing death, not because he was facing loneliness. And, he probably feels guilty because he left her alone, because his suffering made her suffer. He was supposed to be her husband and death did them part, as it were. Fighting the wolves, surviving this manly adventure—that offers him something better than the slow death he surely experienced.

(And, I could use some great adventure to replace this daily grind... and I don’t choose the word grind to imply that it is tedious, or that it is more work than the effort is worth. But, it is a grind, the gears of life day in and day out, the gears of watching these movies day in and day out, the gears of feeling like I’m not worth much...

And, sometimes, a single sentence can strain those gears near to breaking.

I shouldn’t need this outlet to get by. But, I think I still do.

It’s an extra purpose to every day, this blog. I’ve got my kids. I’ve got my students. And, I’ve got my movies. I’ve got my words. My words fuel my being. My self continues as long as I have something to say... Rather, my self continues as long as I have something to say and I say it.)

So, then, I gotta wonder... Ottway makes it to heaven after this, right? I mean, the cross made of wallets, the baptism in the river where Henrick dies, and “the last good fight” he’ll ever know. The one that comes after he dies.


  1. Well, I'm glad you liked that quotation! It IS my favourite Chesterton quotation indeed. "What's Wrong with the World" is Chesterton's volume of sociology and his vision of the good society-- he was rather left-wing economically, more in a "Third Way" than a socialist manner.

    Despite my love of the quotation, maybe the wisdom of Kenny Rogers applies more here--- you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em-- I do hope you don't stop blogging but maybe a less intense approach is called for, if it becomes drudgery.

    I'm sorry to see you write that you don't feel you're worth much-- I know it's just an expression of an emotion, but I also know how that feels. For what it's worth, I'm always very impressed by your analytical intelligence, your perception of layers in movies (and in general), your sense of perspective and proportion, and your ability to write academically and yet with literary flair. The latter I hold to be a very rare gift in academe today (and bear in mind I have spent fifteen years in a university library...)!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

i've seen it over a hundred times

la fille que j'aimera sera comme bon vin

the wretch, concentred all in self