TRIP SLAYMAKER ’18
Since Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent Oscar win for Best Actor, Alexandro Inarritu’s latest film and Best Picture nominee The Revenant has come to be seen as the vehicle that got Leo the gold. That instant association, coupled with the well publicized reports of a grinding and physically demanding shoot in the snowy wilds of Canada, the United States and Argentina has shrouded the film with flashy connotations. It pays to look at The Revenant as a film that stands on it’s own, without any help from the fame of its top-billed actor.
The world of The Revenant is wide and deadly; the threat of hypothermia hangs in the air. Beyond the farthest frontiers of the wilderness works Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) as a fur-trapper in 1823. This occupation puts these men in the path of countless dangers inherent to the unforgiving territory.
Glass is the strong, silent type, though he is something of a solitary figure even among his fellow woodsmen. This is because of the racial fear the others harbor toward his adopted Native American son. Already, one can dimly sense a back-story before it has fully formed. Glass is markedly more enlightened than the other trappers, and there is something of the spiritual world about him.
Only a few minutes have passed since the film’s opening moments, and suddenly war is everywhere. A band of Arikara warriors, the Native American tribe whose lands are being encroached upon by Glass’s compatriots, has swept the camp of the trappers. A battle sequence so early into the movie feels like a deliberate move that is meant to impress. War has rarely felt so real and physically dangerous as it does in The Revenant thanks to the ingenious Academy Award-winning cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, whose work on director Inarritu’s previous movie Birdman earned praise. Lubezki uses a highly motion-oriented perspective that works to place the viewer into the scene itself using a limited, first person perspective that somehow feels sprawling, and often moves fluidly in one take that lasts many minutes. Innaritu chose to shoot solely on location and in natural lighting in an attempt at realism, and it pays off.
As Glass and a few other survivors flee toward civilization, the small group knows they are being hunted by the pursuing tribe. Things go from bad to far worse when Glass is mauled to the brink of death by a bear in one of the most merciless scenes in the film. Inarritu is careful to leave nothing to the imagination as his leading man is ripped apart by a faithfully rendered beast that will likely change how you feel about bears, even if you thought you were afraid before.
Glass, now comatose and likely to breathe his last any second, is rescued and transported for some time by the other members of the group. In an Academy Award-nominated performance that rivals DiCaprio’s, Tom Hardy plays the sinister Fitzgerald, a frontiersman who has shed his respect for human life after years in the hellish north. It is Fitzgerald who finally abandons Glass to his fate, placing him in a shallow grave and comfortably pronouncing him dead, even as Glass glares at him, seething.
Weeks away from any outpost and unable even to stand, Glass passes beyond death itself and finds his will to live. So begins his long, slow journey through the wild. With the murderous Fitzgerald ahead, the avenging Arikara tribe behind, and the most deadly natural forces in the world lurking behind every tree, there is no real hope for Glass’s survival. And yet, still he perseveres against every challenge, not fearing death because he is already immersed in it.
There are times when The Revenant hurts to watch because of the grimness that pervades most of its scenes. Glass’s journey seems to whittle him away with each step until only the shivering will to live remains. DiCaprio puts his heart and soul into the physicality of his acting, and rails against nature in his fight to survive. Despite some critical griping, the performance is very impressive, and eventually becomes animalistic. DiCaprio clearly believed he could win an Oscar the moment he signed on to the role. The vocabulary used in The Revenant is in the natural landscape, which is both gorgeous and terrifying in its scale. This setting is used expertly to counter the grittiness of the narrative.
Through these techniques, The Revenant has the power to make struggle and death feel intimate. Hugh Glass’s journey brings him through endless nightmares and astounding beauty, and thanks to a carefully crafted movie, we’re right there with him.
The Revenant will be playing at Cinestudio from Apr. 27 to Apr. 30.
TRIP SLAYMAKER ’18