Late to the party, I know. But now the bustling hype of the Oscars has quietened, and the elation of Leo’s win no longer plagues every meme online, we can take a breather and look back on the experience of The Revenant. It was a big shame that Leo’s win became somewhat gimmicky, because that shadowed what his performance actually meant. Then again, I don’t think an Oscar is required for us to realise the aptitude of his unpolished display of human survival at its icy peak.
Retelling and reinventing the extraordinary tale of how the fur trader and frontiersman, Hugh Glass, survives not only a brutal attack on the camp by retaliating natives, but a harrowing and disfiguring attack by a bear, Alejandro Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezski partner up again to create a memorable cinematic experience.
What’s it about? The real essence of the plot, and what can be taken from it, is deciphered towards the end. But for the main part it is about a man teetering on the crumbling edge of survival, clawing his way through stark, frozen and unforgiving landscapes to find the person who killed his son before his eyes.
The Revenant has all the elements of a Western; the arid wilderness of the American colonial era, the conflict between the Pawnee and the trappers, and the lone protagonist on a journey for revenge and retribution, but it feels like so much more. The landscapes are all-encompassing. Lubezski really has a talent for pulling you in to the action (or, as some might argue, lack of) by emphasising the desolation, much like in Gravity (2013). All shot in natural light and chronologically (hell for the shooting schedule, perfect for the aesthetics), the bleak yet beautiful wilderness of The Revenant is so poignant that it pretty much can be considered as a character in the narrative. The frosted and jagged rocks, the freezing cold and clear lakes, the whitest snow, metres high. This is the territory Leo’s Hugh Glass battles with throughout the film. But it’s not a villain. Instead, it becomes his inhospitable friend as he slowly masters survival.
On the topic of how the film looks, the CGI’d bear was the one thing that slightly jarred with me. And I guess that’s because of how it contrasts with the unrefined, naturalistic style of the rest of the film. It didn’t jar with me enough to take my concentration of the almost unwatchable scene of the bear attack on Hugh Glass that dragged out perfectly.
Some have argued the lack of action in The Revenant. This movie is not for everyone, and it does depend how you define action. Although there was a section in the middle where I felt the plot lost its way a bit, I really was on the edge of my seat throughout. It’s no Mad Max: Fury Road, but the intensity of the protagonist’s situation is magnified through lingering, uninterrupted shots, the pure scale of the raw landscapes, that beautifully eerie soundtrack that keeps creeping into the conscience of the film throughout, and of course Leonardo DiCaprio’s powerful performance – all orchestrated together to keep you right in the heart of the struggle. I felt cold but the heating was on.
Go back and watch The Revenant again, and perhaps you won’t have the same experience as the first time. But I guarantee the early sequence of the attack on the trappers by the native Americans, painfully seamless and lengthily, will still make you wince. The bear attack will still turn your stomach, and the finale will still leave you with that warming yet chilling feeling of having witnessed something overtly human in the cinematic form.
Interesting watch: The Revenant by Tarkovsky