Into 'The Grey': An Interview with Director Joe Carnahan
BY: Evan Derrick
After the plane crash lands and the survivors band together inside the wreckage, it becomes clear that one of them is not going to live for much longer. Liam Neeson’s character takes the man’s hand and comforts him as he slips away.
BN: How difficult and important was it for you to get that initial death scene right?
JC: You see in movies a lot of people being killed, but you rarely see a man die. I just wanted there to be this tremendous sense of how fragile the human existence really is. It was very difficult to shoot because it was an extremely emotional scene, and at the same time I think there’s a great simplicity in the way that we shot it. My only driving, fanatical motivation was to not let the audience off the hook. What I mean by that was, I wasn’t going to play music to tell you how to feel. What I really wanted was for you to experience the very real and uncomfortable last moments of a man’s life, and him slipping away and leaving this earth and transitioning to wherever that is, wherever we’re going. Heaven, the afterlife, you can leave that open to interpretation. And to watch that and to watch those characters have to deal with that, to me that moment was really the thesis statement for the rest of the film. You’re fighting for how important this is to you: your life and what’s come before it and what you hope will come after it. [That scene] was critical, man, and that we nail it and that it not be trivialized or oversimplified or by saying, “Well, let’s not make the audience uncomfortable.” I absolutely wanted you to be uncomfortable, because that’s the only way I’m going to pull you into that experience, is to put you right in that plane with them.
BN: Following that scene I realized this movie was going to be quite different from what I thought it was going to be. The only comparable death scene that I can think of, in my mind, was in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN…
JC: Brother, I knew you were going to say that, when Giovanni Ribisi dies. I wasn’t necessarily channeling that scene but I remember that being so effective. They’re hitting this guy with morphine to kind of give him his final send-off, and at one point he calls for his mother, which I thought was just heart breaking. And in [my scene], I purposefully left it quite low, so you don’t necessarily hear it, but James Bastille’s last words are “Wait for me,” and those were my great grandmother’s last words. I always thought to myself, “What did my grandmother see? Who did she want to wait for her?” It was part of the very personal thing that I, that we all put into that film. The cast and crew alike, we’re all put in our own personal lives and experiences.