Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Revenant

Boiled down to its essence, The Revenant (2015) is a story about survival and revenge. It's overlong and slightly pretentious in parts, but overall, it is a raw, physical look at a man, broken and left for dead at the edge of the world, who through sheer force of will forces his way through the hostile wilderness to return to civilization and find the man responsible. It won't be pretty and it won't be clean.

Leonard DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a tracker with a fur-trapping expedition in the uncharted parts of North Dakota and Montana in the 1820s. After the party is ambushed by an Indian war party, Glass and the other survivors, led by Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), retreat back to friendly territory, but when Glass is mauled by a bear and nearly killed, Glass's son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the inexperienced Bridger (Will Poulter), and the salty John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) volunteer to stay behind with Glass, to give him a proper burial when he succumbs to his wounds. But Fitzgerald gets impatient, kills Hawk, and leaves Glass to die.

The Revenant revels in the physical details: the snow, the ice, the rushing river, the wind, the mud, the grime, and the blood. This is not a romanticized look at the untamed American wilderness; this is a hostile, indifferent world filled with creatures and people who would just as soon kill and eat you as they would leave you lying on the ground. This is the kind of movie that makes you want to take a hot bath after watching it, especially once Glass escapes hostile natives by sliding into freezing water and letting the flow of the river take him to safety. Rarely has wet clothing on film looked so miserable to wear. In a desperate moment later on, as a blizzard falls, Glass disembowels a dead horse and slides inside its carcass, naked, to stay warm.

The bear attack (which I think was done with a CGI bear, the effect is mostly good) is a harrowing, desperate fight for survival and not at all portrayed like a fun action scene. This creature dwarfs Glass and manhandles him as if he were a small child. Throughout the scene, the bear is on top of him, with only its snout or claws clearly visible, and as result, we feel like we're pinned under its massive frame along with Glass. His surviving the bear, which was protecting its cubs, is more a result of luck and his awareness of where he is on the ground than it is his fighting skills.

The aftermath is arguably more intense. We see gruesome closeups of Glass' wounds, on his back and his throat, and this being the 1820s, we know he doesn't have the advantages of painkillers or antiseptic as Henry and the others treat him, stitching up his cuts and gashes with him still awake. These wounds become nastily infected, and it's rare for a movie to show its hero so vulnerable and physically weakened. How many times have we seen Arnold or Stallone brush off gunshot wounds like they were nothing? Here, Glass can't even sit up after the bear mauls him, and it's only a gradual and slow road to recovery before he can even walk.

The Revenant is one of the best movies I've seen that depicts the harshness of nature and its elements. Watching the movie, you will feel cold, wet, and exhausted along with Glass and the others. I could have done without all the visions and flashbacks to Glass with his dead wife and the Indian village; these are a little too arty for such a gritty movie, but without them, the movie would be extremely grim and depressing.

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