The Revenant (2015, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), is a semi-biographical film based on the 2002 novel by Michael Punke.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Hugh Glass, a frontiersman in 1823, trying to make a living trapping and selling animal furs. He and his Pawnee son are guides for a group of soldiers when their camp is attacked by Indians. They escape down the river in their boat, but soon abandon it to hide the pelts and get back to their fort on foot.
On their journey, Glass is attacked by a mother Grizzly bear and is nearly mauled to death. It’s the most harrowing and horrifying movie scene I’ve ever witnessed, I think; the viewer cannot look away for at least five straight minutes while this behemoth tears chunks out of Glass’s flesh. It almost strains credulity that a person could survive such injuries.
Yet he does, and his companions sew him up as best they can and try to haul him across the unforgiving wilderness in winter. His son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) whispers his love and encouragement into his ear, much as the father did with the son years ago when the family was attacked by soldiers. The boy’s mother was killed and the boy was injured, leading to their nomadic life and their fierce devotion to one another.
It’s soon clear that carrying Glass through the wild, snowy mountains is impossible; assuming Glass is near death, the group’s commander, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleason) decides to leave him behind with Hawk and two other soldiers, to bury him properly when the time comes.
The problem is, Glass isn’t dying fast enough for John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy in a typically fantastic performance). This man has proven to be a greedy, self-centered pain in the ass along the entire journey, and it’s no surprise he tries to speed things along by stuffing Glass’s mouth with a kerchief. Hawk intervenes, however, and Fitzgerald kills Glass’s son right before his horrified eyes. The murderous soldier hides the body and convinces his companion, young Bridger (Will Poulton) to abandon Glass.
So begins the incredible journey of survival and revenge for the rest of the film, a film that takes its time in the telling, with beautiful cinematography and a spare, haunting score.
Glass must survive his injuries, the elements, and roving bands of Indians and Frenchman along the way. He finds a kindred spirit in a Sioux man (Arthur Redcloud) heading south after his own family has been slaughtered. He allows Glass to travel with him and builds a healing hut when his wounds threaten to kill him. A scene of the two of them resting on their journey and catching snowflakes on their tongues helps to restore faith in humanity (in a story where there is little reason to do so); amid such violence and hopelessness, they can still find small joys.
If I had any complaint, it would be that the film could have been tightened up a bit, but it’s hardly a complaint. Scenes like the snowflake scene, dream sequences, and long, quiet takes of the landscape lend the movie its beauty and poignancy.
Impressive on every level, The Revenant deserved its cascade of award nominations and wins, including the Oscar nomination for Best Picture, DiCaprio’s win for Best Actor, Inarritu for Best Director, and Emmanuel Lubezki for Best Cinematography. If you have a few hours to spare, it’s worth your while to sink into this enthralling movie experience.