The Revenant – 2015
This is one of those movies that I have really been looking forward to seeing. The previews, the big names, the poster, and the buzz just made it look like it was going to be a big thrill ride in the days of the trappers and traders that explored the new lands of America and Canada. I had visions of rugged men, Indians, beautiful and unspoiled nature, and intense drama. And I certainly got all I was expecting and more.
Based on true events, The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a hired guide for a group of trappers. Glass is a true frontiersman, a man who knows how to survive on his own in the wilderness. He is friend to the friendly Pawnee Indians, and knows which violent tribes to avoid. In fact, he has a half-Pawnee son named Hawk, played by Forrest Goodluck, whose mother was killed by some military force attacking the Pawnee. Also, the savage Arikara Indians are constantly attacking trappers and traders, bringing in the sub-plot of the Chief’s search for his abducted daughter, Powaka.
There’s the background. The real meat of the story begins after the trappers are decimated by an Arikara attack. The few survivors flee into the wilderness, Among them are Glass, Hawk, Captain Henry, played by Domhnall Gleason, the young Jim Bridger, played by Will Poulter, and the dishonest, self-serving opportunist, John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy. When Glass is horribly mauled by a grizzly bear, the rest do their best to care for him and get him back to civilization. But eventually, as the snows of winter grow deeper and deeper, they realize that they cannot survive, themselves, while trying to save his life. Captain Henry asks for three volunteers to stay behind with Glass, wait until he is dead, and bury him.
Hawk, Bridger, and Fitzgerald volunteer, the latter only doing so when he is offered money for the task. However, after the main party leaves, Fitzgerald attempts to murder Glass, but ends up murdering Hawk in front of Glass instead. He then convinces Bridger to leave Glass for dead and the two strike off into the wild to catch up with Captain Henry. But Glass survives, and most of the rest of the two and a half hour movie follows Glass as he fights to stay alive in the untamed wilderness. On the surface, it seems that it is only his desire for revenge against Fitzgerald that keeps him going, but I don’t believe that is accurate.
You see, a running theme in the film is that as long as you have breath within you, you fight to survive. As much as his revenge motivates him to punish the evil Fitzgerald, he survives simply because he doesn’t know how to give up living. The movie’s ending confirms this. Even after he gets his revenge, as I always knew he would, and he is wounded, bleeding, and directionless, the film’s director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, makes a point of letting us know that he is still breathing. In fact, as the credits begin to scroll up the screen, and the music starts to play, we can still hear his labored breathing. Clearly, Glass means to continue fighting for that next breath.
The scene of the bear attack was amazing. Violent and horrific, it was very believable. As I was watching the movie, and Glass came within sight of the two innocent cubs, I immediately thought, “Why aren’t you running in the opposite direction already?” Of course, the bear was all CGI, but DiCaprio had a difficult shoot as he was tossed around on wires, and had to vigorously wrestle with stunt men representing the bear, all the while on location in the woods. It is also reported that it was raining that day during filming. The scene is powerful and shocking in its savagery.
Now, as I usually do after watching a movie that is based on true events, I did a little reading to find out how much of the fictional plot was historically accurate. In this case, I’d say about half. For example, was there a fur trader named Hugh Glass who was mauled by a bear and left for dead? Yes. Did he have a murdered Pawnee wife and a half-breed son? No. Well, that blows the rest of the revenge plot out of the water. Did Glass survive and track down a man named John Fitzgerald? Yes, but only to retrieve his rifle. When the real Glass finally caught up with Fitzgerald, the man had joined the army, so killing him would have gotten Glass arrested. However, he did get his gun back from a reluctant Fitzgerald.
Finally, I have to mention how, once again, DiCaprio did a fantastic job. He was amazing. He has been quoted as saying, “I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. I was enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.” Of the film’s twelve Oscar nominations and three wins, DiCaprio took home one of them for Best Actor. He had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor once and Best Actor three other times, and I think his first win for The Revenant was very well-deserved. Well done, once again, Leo! The more I see, the more I want to see!