Today I watched Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant (2015)
The Revenant is loosely based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who lived and operated around South Dakota. In the film, as in life, he is mauled by a bear and miraculously survives, but his critical injuries incapacitate him and the rest of the trapping crew cannot wait around as they are being pursued by a very angry band of Arikara warriors, more on them later. Glass is left behind with his half-native son and two other trappers, the main one being John Fitzgerald, a ruthless bastard who ends up forcing the group to abandon Glass. While the half paralyzed Glass tries to survive and get back to civilization for revenge, those Arikara I mentioned earlier have their own narrative going on. They are hunting for the Chief’s daughter who was kidnapped by unknown white people, so they will attack pretty much anyone and they frequently cross paths with Glass.
Throughout these two emotionally charged stories, the audience is confronted with grand scenes of natural beauty and brutality. There is little dialogue through long stretches of this film, allowing for the visuals and sound design to immerse the audience in the film’s harsh environment. Droning orchestration serves as the backdrop to the juxtaposition of the cast’s hardened faces and the brutally imposing faces of mountains. Supposedly they really put the cast and crew through hell in this film and it shows, the two leads, Leonardo DiCaprio as the hero Glass and Tom Hardy as the villainous Fitzgerald, deliver some incredible performances that have to hinge entirely on facial movements through many scenes. The natural brutality that this film peddles is perfectly embodied by these two heavy hitters of the modern era.
What makes this film really work is how it taps into what I think is the ideological core of all action and survival movies, and the reason for the commonality of violence in art and media as a symbol. Bloodshed and suffering is cathartic and directly represents and enhances the feelings we have for our own lesser daily struggles. By seeing Glass overcome the gruesome hole in his throat, among other things, we can see ourselves overcoming our own, less visceral obstacles. There also seems to be a counter argument in the film to all the presentation of nature as this lovable and cute teddy bear. This is a movie about predators and prey, the image of nature it portrays is brutal, yet it is still a naturalist film as it may be imposing and terrifying, but nature is also beautiful in it’s grandeur. It is something worth protecting, but not if it means white washing the darker aspects of it away.
The Revenant is a slow, brooding, and imposing tale of revenge and survival, hunting and being the hunted, beauty and brutality, vastness and intimacy. There is a constant feeling of fear throughout the movie as nowhere seems like a safe haven for anyone. The performances in this movie really cement DiCaprio and Hardy as two of the best, hardest working guys in the industry today, and Iñárritu as one of the most expressive creators. Unless you are particularly squeamish, I would recommend seeing this film, it is quite a dark work but one that holds many rewards. It is life affirming in a way that only films that revel in death and doom can ever really be. 5/5