Tom Hanks’ Greyhound doesn’t waste much time on exposition: on-screen text tells you how crucial supply convoys are to the Allies in Europe. A brief flashback introduces you to Hanks’ Commander Krause. But tension and dread is already building by the nine-minute mark: the first wolf has reared its head. There are U-boats in the water, and the convoy is their prey.
From that point on the film, much like the vessel for which it’s named, never stops moving; from the back of the convoy to the front and back again, until the exhaustion on everyone’s faces is written on our souls, too. It’s a submarine movie expertly blended with a disaster film. What it lacks in characterization (except for the tough-and-tender Krause), it more than makes up for in suspense, intensity, action, dread, propulsion, and weariness amid constant crises.
The film uses its brief runtime to great effect: indeed, far from feeling rushed, the 91 minutes truly impart a feeling that there is too much time remaining, that the coming relief just can’t get here in time, that the end of the film is further away than anyone can bear. It’s deftly played in Hanks’ script and acting, and in Aaron Schneider’s directing: we really do feel what the characters are feeling.
Almost exactly halfway through the film, that feeling becomes palpable: out of depth charges, Greyhound fires wantonly at a diving U-boat with all guns, little hoping to do any damage before it submerges out of reach. Distress rockets light the clouds from ships all across the convoy. Flashes from torpedo blasts reflect off the water from all sides. Comm traffic of the doomed nearly drowns out the pounding, despairing music, the discordant wailing howl of the U-boats’ leitmotif giving way to orders already failed before they’re given. This isn’t going to end anytime soon, and the camera rises into the literal and figurative clouds, heavy with a continuous, unyielding harassment and helplessness, watched over by an incongruous aurora. It’s the movie in a thirty-second nutshell: harried and hunted, Greyhound and her charges have a long night ahead.
Note: plot and ending spoilers for Greyhound follow. You have been warned.
Harassed and Helpless: Convoy HX-25
“I’ve lost Eagle. Harry and Dicky are low on depth charges and fuel, as are we. I can offer only scant protection to the convoy. We need air cover, Charlie. Do…do I break radio silence with a message to the Admiralty? Or does that let the wolf pack know just how vulnerable we are?”
“What would the message be?”
“‘Help Needed Urgently.’”
—Captain Ernie Krause and XO Charlie Cole
A crafty hidden danger, hunting us, lying in wait too close for comfort, impervious in its invisibility, and we’re tapped out of resources to fight it—sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
I don’t mean coronavirus. Though it does seem like the threats keep piling up in 2020; behind every calendar square is some other threat, torpedoes loaded, charging toward us at full speed, and each time we’re less prepared to handle it. That helplessness is more visible this year than I remember it ever being. Life in a fallen world.
And it’s easy to say “we suffer because of sin,” but a simple statement like that belies the pain of life in this world. Of course the phrase is true: because others sin against us, we are hurt. Because the sin of others splashes and affects us indirectly, we hurt. Because our own sin has consequences, we hurt. Because the whole human race is fallen, we hurt. But all of that is little comfort when things feel meaningless, interminable, excruciating, and everlasting.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
—Matthew 9:36-37, ESV
“Harassed and helpless” is a perfect term to describe Convoy HX-25. They’re utterly dependent on Greyhound for survival, and the hunters circle beneath them waiting for the slightest opening. And Jesus says that humanity is in the exact same situation: we are already damaged, and the attack continues.
This feels different to a lot of people. Maybe Coronavirus has stolen your health, leaving you dependent on modern medicine to survive. Maybe quarantine has sapped your energy, and you can’t cope with the possibility of remaining in isolation for another month, day, or even hour.
Maybe you’re exhausted by the fight against systemic injustice and racism in our culture. Maybe you’re frightened by the very real target that injustice has painted on you because of your racial heritage.
Or maybe 2020, with all of its threats and changes and contradictory messaging, has left you unsure of how to react to anything. Maybe it seems like society is moving too quickly for you to internalize, and you’re frantically trying to come to grips with your new status in all the social change that’s happening.
Whether you’re ill, frustrated, tired, frightened, unsure, angry, or something else entirely, you’re harassed and helpless. But take heart: Jesus has compassion on you! He will see you safely across, but it won’t be in your own power. You need something more than a promise. You need the Greyhound to swoop in and save you.
You need a Shepherd.
Harried and Hunted: Commander Ernie Krause
“Pips on the radar screen, bearing 091, sir. Looks like two subs directly ahead of the convoy. Range 10 miles.”
“We got a pip, bearing 098, range 14 miles.”
“We’ve got Harry’s pip, sir, and another. Bearing 090, range 13 miles.”
“Eagle here, with another pip on the move. Range five miles, bearing 07—”
“…nine miles to one pip at 090, the other bearing 092, range eight miles.”
“A wolf pack shadowing us. They’ll attack as a group.”
—Escort ships Dicky, Harry, and Eagle, and Greyhound XO Charlie Cole
The first one was almost impossible to destroy. Another one just vanished. Now a wolf pack of seven are lying in wait, and only four escort ships are there to fight them off. Talk about helpless.
By the time the phone goes silent in Krause’s ear, he’s tried to inform his XO of the approaching threat a few times, only to be interrupted by a report of another, and another, and another. The dread continues growing as they wearily defend the convoy, always a step behind their German hunters.
Krause is portrayed as unfailingly devout. So he would know well Jesus’s heart for the harassed and helpless. And he would know the answer He promises: Himself.
Jesus hadn’t only just noticed the crowds and their distress. In fact, it’s the reason he came to Earth in the first place. When He saw the crowds harassed and helpless, He came down from heaven; He gave up His throne to enter into our brokenness and save us. He saw our need and provided Himself: the only thing that could help. His plea to God was not just the request; it was also the answer.
Commander Krause had a similar plea: his simple call for “Help” wasn’t just a bare-headed, full-throated, desperate cry, it was a call to which he himself was the answer. The convoy was harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and Krause was the shepherd. His prayer and request for hope was answered, in part, in him.
And so it is with us. Our call and plea and agonized cry for the help and salvation and comfort and calm and relief and rest of others is answered in Jesus; He alone can make whole what was once broken, can repair a broken world and a broken heart, can restore our strength and make us feel capable. But He doesn’t just wave a magic wand and make it happen; Jesus heals us by sending us His Spirit. He empowers us to be this change and others and in ourselves, and then so doing makes us the answer to our prayer that He would restore the world.
The story related in Greyhound is fiction, first written in a book called The Good Shepherd. It’s well titled, because the real Good Shepherd not only fulfills the promise of who the fictional Ernie Krause stirs up longing in our heart for, He empowers us by His Spirit to be that for others. When we become a part of His kingdom as Christians, we are called to this salvific role as His crewman. His orders are good, and following them is the only way to achieve our goal and reach the other side alive.
But maybe to you that doesn’t feel like comfort. Maybe to you that feels just like more work. Maybe you feel like Commander Krause as He pulls bloody shoes from his weary feet, and faces another night with an empty stomach and no real hope for success.
But there is hope. Air support is on its way.
Harassment to Hope: The Gospel for Sheep and Shepherd
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
—Isaiah 35:10, ESV
There is an end in sight! The hope for both sheep and shepherd is that our battle will not last forever. We will not be harassed for all time. They will come a day when we are no longer helpless. And it is not a question of when, but of where.
Isaiah 35 paints a picture of that place. It talks about a place where the desert bursts into bloom, where healing and comfort and everlasting joy and rest await. It’s not Liverpool, but rather the Kingdom of Heaven; when we reach its borders, salvation and deliverance will come from the sky and everything that harasses us—weakness, sin, injustice, helplessness, the sorrow and sighing of life in a broken world—will flee in terror and be destroyed!
In fact, Jesus was in the middle of showing a glimpse of that Kingdom in Matthew 9; right before he had compassion on the crowds and expressed his plea for laborers to help the shepherdless sheep, Jesus had healed person after person after person, people with chronic diseases and incurable ailments and societal stigmas; He healed them, in a reversal of the world’s order, to show the way things are supposed to be. The way things will be in His Kingdom, where sorrow and sighing flee away and where all we have is rejoicing and gladness and comfort and rest and plenty and safety and security and calm and peace for all time.
So how do we get there? Only Jesus makes it possible. Trusting in Him is the only way to get there. But He not only brings us into His kingdom, He also empowers us and appoints us as members of His crew to save others in the same danger. He points to the harassed and helpless and instructs us to pray that we would be sent; our duty to Christ is a duty to those in need.
“Our need is to feel compassion because of their need. Our need is to care and love like Jesus did. He was so much a man for others! We need to be honest and admit that compassion does not come natural to us. It is a work of grace in our hearts and, for that reason, the product not of works, but of prayer. ‘He saw the crowds and had compassion for them.'”
The strong, in Jesus’ Kingdom, are given the compassion and power to save the weak. And that is the kingdom where we will find rest.
Greyhound is available to stream on Apple TV+.
Note: a review copy of this film was provided to Reel World Theology for the purposes of this review.