For my birthday, Michelle wanted to take me to a movie. Being that I’m way behind on seeing all the award season fodder, I decided on seeing “The Revenant” which fit into our timeframe. And wow- what a movie to see on my birthday in the sense of watching an intensely brutal and epic survival picture set during the 1820s in uncharted frontier land.
In the film which everyone is saying will win him his Oscar, Leonardo DiCaprio ( no longer the “Titanic” pretty boy) portrays Hugh Glass a real-life explorer, fur-trapper and tracker. Of course, he is great in the role but watching his performance was colored by this scathingly funny Onion piece I read before seeing the film. “Asked for his thoughts on his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, Leonardo DiCaprio told reporters Thursday that he really hopes he screamed and cried good enough in The Revenant to win the Oscar.”
Setting that aside, at the beginning of the film we meet Glass and his boy (Forrest Goodluck) hunting a moose. While they are away, their camp is attacked Arikara Native Americans forcing the surviving men onto a boat including John Fitzgerald (a brilliant Tom Hardy). The recommendation of Glass is to abandon the boat and head back to Fort Kiowa.
If the proceedings were not brutal enough at this point, while out hunting by himself, Glass disturbs a grizzly bear with cubs. He is savagely attacked by the mama bear. I imagine most people have heard about this scene by now and I can safely say that I have never seen anything like it ever in my life of watching films. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu often keeps the camera close during the attack bringing the mauling right to the forefront. Having read that CGI wizards pulled off this bear-mauling magic, I was surprised as the scene looked authentically genuine.
Mortally wounded, Glass is carried by his men as they attempt to work their way back to the camp. Becoming an overwhelming burden, Glass is left for dead, betrayed by Fitzgerald. Other really awful things happen that I won’t disclose. In considerable and immense pain, Glass survives and summons his will to track down the man who betrayed him and get his revenge.
This thematic plot could be lifted from any number of westerns. One can argue that the basis for Glass surviving and doing what is necessary to live is his hellbent desire to settle the score, a convicting rage that is etched into every inch of DiCaprio’s face.
Glass meets Hikuc, a friendly Pawnee, who shares bison meet with him. Hikuc has lost his entire family through violence but is not seeking vengeance. He tells Glass that ‘revenge is in the Creator’s hands.’ There is a moving dream/ vision sequence where Glass sees an old dilapidated church where the bell still barely hangs above what was the entry door. He embraces his boy in the church in front of a fading picture of the Savior Jesus and incomplete walls as most of them have fallen over. We get the sense that a transcendent message is trying to break through to Glass in this very violent world. The question is if he will heed the call.
Here I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:19-21, ESV) The meditation on revenge (and its consequences) create an overall transcendence to the film.
The movie is gorgeously shot with cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki and there were moments where I thought I was watching a Terrence Malick movie. Many shots are low angle with characters just above the foreground as the entirety of the shot encompasses a tree canopy near the top. Where the film breaks away from Malick’s style is the brutal, Darwinian type survival action that is a focus of the plot. The beautiful scenery is contrasted against the ugliness of people’s actions toward one another (or an animal’s instincts to eat or protect their young).
All things being considered, this is not a movie that will leave one’s thoughts after watching it. Expertly crafted and featuring strong performances, “The Revenant” is deserving of the awards season attention. And, I guess, DiCaprio should finally win his Oscar (although I haven’t seen some of the other nominee performances yet).