Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Revenant


Revenant [noun] rev·e·nant \ˈre-və-ˌnäⁿ, -nənt\ 1. Someone who returns from a long absence. 2. A person or thing reborn. 3. A supernatural being that returns from the dead; a zombie or ghost.

Hugh Glass could certainly qualify as a revenant. In 1823 he was terribly mauled by a bear and left to die by his companions. A few months later he stumbled into Fort Kiowa, two hundred miles away. He had set his own broken leg, and allowed maggots to eat his festering flesh so he would not get gangrene. Friendly Indians sewed a bearskin to his back to cover his wounds.

This is a film that is “based on real events,” and as usual, many liberties were taken. We don’t see the maggots, nor the bearskin sewing, but there are plenty of other horrors, including a fall over a cliff with a horse that I didn’t believe was survivable for a tenth of second.

It is true that the hunting party he was with left him behind, but two men were left with him, basically to give him a Christian burial. They were John Fitzgerald and a very young Jim Bridger, who would later become one of the best known frontiersmen of the century. And they did abandon him, falsely claiming that he had died.

SPOILER WARNING: Glass did not marry a Pawnee woman, so far as is known, and did not have a half-breed son, so the scene where Fitz kills the boy is totally made up. The rest of the incidents resulting in his survival that are shown are within the bounds of artistic license, since no one knows precisely all the tribulations he overcame. I got no problem with that (except for the fall).

But the worst sin, in my opinion, was that after Glass tracked Fitz down, he did not kill him. But he sure does here, and it was so goddam predictable that they would take that route. I mean, you knew in the first ten minutes that the film would end with a final hand-to-hand, bloody wrestling match between the two men. Why not show it as it actually happened? Glass let the son of a bitch live because he had joined the Army, and the Army would take a dim view of one of their soldiers being killed. Glass did tell Fitz, allegedly, that if he ever left the Army, he, Glass, would be waiting there to kill him. So the scene would have shown mercy, a little bit of forgiveness, but with an edge.

I would call this a good adventure movie, but not a great one. And I can’t agree with giving the Best Actor award to DiCaprio, nor Best Director to Iñárritu. I liked both Matt Damon in The Martian and Bryan Cranston in Trumbo better. As for director, I’m sticking with George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road. I think the award to DiCaprio was a case of “It’s about time.” He has been better in other pictures. But it also helps that he suffers a lot here. I mean, the actor, as well as the part. He plunges into icy water many times, and actually eats a raw fish and a hunk of raw buffalo liver. He’s a vegetarian, and said he really hated that.

This was an incredibly tough shoot. Several crew members were fired, or quit, which is almost un-heard-of. The cold and other misery for everyone involved must have been enormous. Iñárritu is obsessed with long, long takes, and though they might be assembled from a series of takes, as they did in Birdman, it is still very tough to do. The picture opens with a long steadicam shot through swampy water. This entails not only the actors wading through cold water, but the camera operator, the focus puller, the director and probably several others. Then it morphs into an Indian attack, with arrows seeming to penetrate the actors. Such a scene must be extensively rehearsed, and it must have been miserable. Not to mention all the scenes done in snowy settings. (The snow melted too early in Canada, so the whole crew had to fly to Argentina!)

BTW: Iñárritu claims no CGI was used. He must mean it wasn’t used to enhance the forests, the rivers, the mountains in the background, because I guarantee you that some CGI was used in that opening battle scene, to put in arrows and stuff. And the bear attack … well, I saw a clip somewhere showing the wires attached to DiCaprio, pulling him violently back and forth. I’m sure that was tough to endure, but it least it wasn’t a real bear.