Sunday, March 3, 2013

Alvin Plantinga vs. The Grey

I like Liam Neeson as an actor, Les Misérables (1998) is a favorite of mine, and so this winter I checked out The Grey at the local library. Unfortunately, the language was so bad that I had to practically mute the sound and opted for the closed captions instead. Unlike The Chronicles of Narnia, this is not what I would call "family friendly" entertainment. It is a rather haunting movie, the kind that stays in your head for a while, so I thought a lot about the underlying philosophy. In the end, the film is more about man's existential predicament and the hiddeness of God, than it is about survival.

After the long painstaking fight for survival, watching each one of his comrades die, one by one, from the wreck, related injuries, wolf attacks, the weather, falling out of a tree, exhaustion, despair, suicide, drowning, being without food, water, shelter, survival gear, rest and subject to the elements of nature, "the unlikely hero Ottway" lays on the ground, looking into the sky in desperation and cries out to God, "Do something. Do something!" After no response, he trails off in the bitter reality of being utterly alone to contend with the forces of nature, stating, "I'll do it myself." We then see him kneeling in the snow going through the pictures in the wallets of the men who are dead. He looks at their families and then considers his own wife. With his wife being deceased, he only has her memory to give him any semblance of meaning, everything else is gone, including his hope of survival. At this point the wolf pack is upon him and the future is already played out. He remembers his father's poem and knows he must make his own choice and that with courage. Allowing fear to paralyze him is not an option. Meanwhile, he has no real reason to live, except for the sake of survival itself, no matter, he will make his choice and stand his ground, however futile it may be. He will not allow his circumstances to dictate his actions, he will not lay down and give up. This is our hero! 

The Amazon reviews are pretty black and white, either people liked it or hated it and I think it is the meaninglessness and futility of it all that most people found so disturbing. It is more than having wasted two hours, it is becoming emotionally interested in the characters only to have all possible hope of survival dashed to pieces, but then the film goes on to take it another step further, in which it attempts to capture the finality of death and thus the essential meaninglessness of life. Francis Shaeffer has talked a lot about this despair. In The God Who is There, he explains how many atheists have tried to live as if there is no meaning in life, but their attempts have been utterly futile. Meanwhile, some antagonists accuse Christians of using a crutch, but it is just a simple fact that none of us can live under the psychological stress that atheism places man under, that is to say, it is impossible to live as though there is no meaning.

There is an interesting wilderness story that Alvin Plantinga relates in his Spiritual Autobiography that relates to our hero's search for God. "There has been only one other occasion on which I felt the presence of God with as much immediacy and strength. That was when I once foolishly went hiking alone off-trail in really rugged country south of Mt. Shuksan in the North Cascades, getting lost when rain, snow and fog obscured all the peaks and landmarks. That night, while shivering under a stunted tree in a cold mixture of snow and rain, I felt as close to God as I ever have, before or since. I wasn't clear as to his intentions for me, and I wasn't sure I approved of what I thought his intentions might be (the statistics on people lost alone in that area were not at all encouraging), but I felt very close to him; his presence was enormously palpable. On many other occasions I have felt the presence of God, sometimes very powerfully: in the mountains (the overwhelming grandeur of the night sky from a slope at 13,000 feet), at prayer, in church, when reading the Bible, listening to music, seeing the beauty of the sunshine on the leaves of a tree or on a blade of grass, being in the woods on a snowy night, and on other kinds of occasions."

I find this to be a most interesting contrast of character representations. You have renown Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, who takes great comfort in knowing God's presence, especially when forced to face nature's fury, and then there is the angry atheist existentialist who chooses to completely isolate himself as he contends with his certain dismal fate.

Mount Shuksan