By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The Revenant is a very aptly titled film that shows how real life frontiersman Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) comes back from the dead. Based on reports of how he survived a bear attack and swam through a cold river, this man has more lives than a cat! Technically, he was at death’s door after the mauling, but as for what he’s become, this movie shows how he turns into a shadow of his former self. If it was not for his exceptional survival instincts, he would be six-feet under.
In this movie and not counting what’s not said about his life prior, he must be down to his last life by the film’s end. The only reason he lives is because he wants revenge upon the self-serving Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). It’s because of him that he gets left for the vultures to eat. Unlike military training where it’s said that you never leave one of your own behind, this individual wanted Glass put out of his misery and left as carrion.
For the rest of the fur-trading expedition, Glass is important. He was most likely the tracker of this group and without him, the trappers may not have been able to communicate with the local tribes they run into. Unfortunately, that does not stop the Arikara nation; The chief is searching for his daughter, and he will command his forces to kill any white men they meet in his search. Although Glass’ married into the Pawnee tribe and has a son, that did not stop Arikara’s first sortie from razing the trader camp. They flee for their lives.
This movie is not perfect because despite what was reported by The Hollywood Reporter about director Alejandro González Iñárritu not wanting to use CGI and green-screen, a bit of it was used in select instances to highlight a few ghostly details. This part of the story is left somewhat vague. The subplot where Glass sees his deceased wife (Grace Dove) and son, Hawke (Forrest Goodluck) has a mystique in its setup, and those scenes where he sees them is not fully explained through exposition. It’s all a dream for this hunter and it’s implied that he is standing at Death’s Door, waiting to be allowed in.
As with any movie based on real-life events, liberties must be taken to accentuate the danger. The tropes used is what makes this film stand out more than just the narrative. Yes, there was an Empire Strikes Back-style moment; the details can be left for the imaginative to wonder what moment was borrowed to survive the freezing cold. A problematical aspect of this film is in how Glass can survive an icy river. Any normal human would have had hypothermia and died, but for Glass, he must be a superman to live through more than one just harrowing incident as he tries to claw his way home.
This movie is all about how frontier justice gets meted. The one image that defines what this film is about will most likely get missed by people who do not recognize the significance of the wintry star constellations. In a simple moment of framing and probably fortuitous luck during filming night scenes, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki captures the beauty of Orion the Hunter in the night sky. Sadly, no matter what movie gets made these days, some CGI is used; to include a fireball into a normally perfect shot and have a piece fall close to Glass in the river, felt like overkill. The famous bear mauling scene is probably a mix of puppetry, CGI and a live creature.
At least for this film’s astronomical connection, the fact that this constellation was highlighted in a prolonged transition sequence elevates this film to a different level. Interestingly enough, some of the constellations, although not visible in the sky, surrounding the hunter did make an appearance. Glass needed a horse. In the sky, Monoceros is a unicorn, a spiritual animal that appears to follow behind the hunter. Sadly, none of that gets played up fully in the story. To the bottom is Canis Major (dog) and Lepus (rabbit), creatures this frontiersman would have found in the tundra. One lore alludes to the possibility Lepus is chased by Canis, only further reinforcing the fact various characters in the film are chasing each other. Challenging Orion is Taurus the Bull (Buffalo in the movie), which was what both the fictional and real-life Glass fed on to get the energy needed to survive. That detail is perhaps the only respectful moment the film reiterates from the recorded stories of Glass’ life. Sometimes, reading the stories of the real-life mountaineer’s true showdown with Fitzgerald makes for a better understanding about the man than the manufactured. This movie is more about dishing out blood debts like a Klingon, than seeing Glass experiencing a rebirth.
3½ Stars out of 5