“I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I’d done it already.” – The Revenant Review

The-Revenant

If Leo doesn’t win an Oscar for this, then there’s something wrong in this world.

“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.” – Hugh Glass

Leonardo DiCaprio – what can I say other than how he’s one of the best actors of this current generation.  I mean that.  He’s a consistent performer.  No matter what the role is, he’s never been afraid to challenge himself.  His performances of late have been Oscar worthy that it has become a conspiracy that he hasn’t won one!

That should change come Oscar night because once again, Leo delivers.  Seriously, HE BETTER WIN otherwise it won’t be only the G and H keys getting destroyed at Red Carpet Rampage!

His performance as Hugh Glass is different from his previous roles.  He doesn’t play someone who abundantly showboats his lifestyle like in The Wolf of Wall Street, or an ignorant and truly despicable slave owner in Django Unchained or a cop investigating a mysterious disappearance in Shutter Island.  The roles I mentioned are characters that squarely put DiCaprio as a leading voice and centre of attention.  In The Revenant, it’s the complete opposite – he hardly speaks.  It’s a stripped back and reserved performance allowing Leo’s physicality  to shine through.

the-revenant-glass

Watching The Revenant is like watching a three hour long Bear Grylls episode.  It is the ultimate survival film as you watch one man travel the ends of the earth (whilst near death) in order to get revenge against the man who murdered his son – John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

The film becomes a compelling and fascinating exploration of the human conciousness.  It explores our resilience and strength in defying the odds in overcoming challenges.  For a film set in the 1820s and based on a true story, The Revenant becomes a self-portrait of the savage and harsh reality of the world it depicts.  The events are captured in a realistic and harrowing fashion, something which director Alejandro González Iñárritu is not afraid to illustrate.

One thing that instantly grabbed my attention was the social barriers, fuelled by prejudice and attitudes of the time setting.  As much as this film is a vehicle for DiCaprio and his outstanding performance, Iñárritu presents a parallel balance to illustrate other concerning matters.

On one hand you have Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) belittled and ridiculed because of their heritage, especially by Fitzgerald who shows nothing but anger and animosity towards the pair.  On the flip side we see the viewpoint of the Native Americans.  They’re treated as insignificant.  We see scenes of a woman being raped or a man hanged and left for dead.  The rest are forced to fulfil tasks by other Western fur trappers, such as stealing fur from rival camps.  In a harsh new world, one Native American leader wants to find his daughter but his demands are treated with a lack of respect or any sign of empathy.

It’s a sequence done on purpose in which Iñárritu wants us to resonate and sympathise with.  In Hugh Glass we see the embodiment and representation of the two cultures – the Native American side from his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and his deceased wife and the frontiersman side where Glass can navigate through difficult terrain to get to safety.

Visually The Revenant is a beautiful looking film and what Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki capture is the beauty of nature.  Filmed using natural light, the journey that Glass embarks on is perilous, enduring moments that you wonder how anyone could survive, let alone go through what he did.  But it is that balance between the danger and the beautiful that draws you into the experience.  At times it’s uncomfortable – there are some things which you will NEVER unsee, especially the scene where Glass is almost mauled to death by a bear.  But his sheer will to carry on whilst doing everything necessary keeps you captivated.  You root for him to make it through.

“You came all this way just for your revenge, huh? Did you enjoy it, Glass?… ‘Cause there ain’t nothin’ gon’ bring your boy back.” – John Fitzgerald

If you’ve seen Birdman, then Iñárritu’s visual traits are once again back on display.  But it’s not a simple copy and paste job.  He does something very unique and contrasting.  When the ambush begins at the beginning of the film, there’s a certain flexibility and freedom with the camera.  The one-track camera shots allows the camera to get up close and personal with the characters and the action.  Just like in Birdman, the camera invades their personal space, showcasing the chaos and brutality between each individual fight as the men race for survival to get to their boats.  To contrast that, the camera would often pan away from the action to reveal the scale and magnitude of scene.  When the enemy is all around you with arrows flying pass the screen and people dying horrifically, I don’t blame you if you suddenly feel a bit claustrophobic.  As the intensity increases, the panning shots become very effective, almost prolonging the tension.
the-revenant-fitzgerald
Where I think the film gets too bogged down is in the middle.  The film utilises a lot of visual metaphors which on first viewing, the moments may simply go over your head.  I did find my concentration dipping a bit but that’s not to say that it was boring or without significance.  Glass is teetering on the edge between life and death.  He begins to see visions of his dead wife and as much as he longs to be with her, his body has to heal so he can live long enough to get his revenge.  Whilst a part of me wants to see the film again to fully grasp those symbolic notions, it does border on being a little self-indulgent just to convey the point of dying and being reborn.

Tom Hardy is another exceptional reason for keeping The Revenant interesting.  Whilst DiCaprio as Glass shows compassion, strength and determination, Hardy as Fitzgerald is the complete opposite.  He has a clear conscious but at the end of the day, he’s a coward, manipulative and very opinionated.  If The Revenant was a game of chess, then every move Fitzgerald made was out of desperation.  For a slow building film, you always get the sense of a ticking clock with Fitzgerald.  How long can he stretch out the lie before times runs out?  Once again the tension builds up, leading to a thrilling conclusion.

Just like in Birdman, Iñárritu leaves the ending open to interpretation.  In The Revenant, Leo breaks the fourth wall, baring his soul to the audience.  Depending on the viewer, you can view it as either hopeful and peaceful or desperately sad.

The Revenant is not for the faint hearted.  At times it’s not an easy watch but you have to stick with it.  Forget the critics saying nonsense like “this film is not suitable for a woman” and so on.  Well, this female enjoyed the film.

If anything, despite how grim and bleak the outlook may be, The Revenant celebrates the human spirit in the most visual and poetic way.  That quality alone should be marvelled and welcomed by anybody instead of taking a Neanderthal approach.

I personally don’t think it needed to be nearly three hours long to make those points but the film alone is worth it just to see the beautiful cinematography on the big screen.

Author: Kelechi Ehenulo

Creator and writer of Confessions From A Geek Mind. Loves sci-fi and LEGO - couldn't ask for a better combo!

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