In the Revenant, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a frontiersman and fur trapper in 1820’s America who is brutally mauled by a grizzly bear. As he recovers from his dire injuries, a fellow fur trapper named Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) kills Hugh’s mixed race son Hawk (the son in question mostly takes after his Native American mother) and buries Hugh alive. Fueled by the desire for revenge, Hugh rises from his makeshift grave and sets off on a harrowing quest through the frozen wasteland of the American wilderness.
This movie came from a hellish production cycle. Director Alejandro Inarritu insisted on having no green screen and absolutely no studio lighting; this meant that all of the daytime scenes needed to be shot during sunlight hours. The Revenant had to be filmed on twelve different locations and three countries (The United States, Argentina and Canada) mainly because snow is an integral part of the narrative. Crew members quit or were fired, Tom Hardy had to drop out of the upcoming Suicide Squad film due to The Revenant’s nightmarish filming schedule, and the movie’s budget skyrocketed from $60 million to $95 million.
The end result is a spectacular film. If I was a cinema professor, I would assign my students to go see The Revenant.
The cinematography is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The natural lighting gives the wilderness a sense of place. Inarritu really loves his tracking shots (his last flick “Birdman” was filmed as a two-hour tracking shot) and he puts that style to good use here. For instance, many of the action sequences are filmed as continuous tracking shots with minimal cuts. While it can feel like the action is going too slow, it allows the tension and energy of the sequence to sink in, creating an immersive experience.
Leonardo DiCaprio had better get that Oscar because he is phenomenal as Hugh Glass.
The bear attack scene is so fantastic that it made me physically sick. I didn’t lose my lunch, but I came close to it. Filmed as an Inarritu tracking shot, you can hear the bear’s claws rip through Hugh Glass’ skin like a blade slicing through fabric. DiCaprio’s screams of blood-curdling agony are jarring to the ears as he is swung back and forth by the provoked creature. The look of nauseating terror on the main character’s face as the bear’s paw presses against his dirt-caked face had me sinking in my seat. I would talk more about it, but I want to be respectful towards our readers who might be squeamish, so I will just say that the bear scene will go down in cinematic history as one of the most graphic animal attack scenes of all time.
The Misses/Word Of Caution
A fellow Core member friend of mine who is working to become a nurse made a good point to me: “…the bear scene to be honest was super brutal. Looking at from what I know about medical stuff, that bear stood on his back a lot and probably should have crushed him or broken his spine which would make him paralyzed. The lash to his neck should have killed him. He probably should have died of infection from the bear wounds while he was out in the wilderness or of hypothermia. Unless the cold was sufficient to halt the spread of infection.” Once my shock at the brutality of the bear attack wore off, I did start to question Hugh’s chances of surviving his injuries. To be fair, movies and books do require suspension of disbelief when their main characters are in situations that would otherwise leave them dead in real life.
Why did I put “Word of Caution” in this segment? Because I feel that I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t warn our readers of what this movie has in store.
I strongly advise against eating before watching this movie, especially meat. If you have a fear of blood, I do not recommend this movie. There is a plethora of bloodshed in this film. If you are protective of animals, this movie will be traumatizing. There’s one sequence where a bison is seen being cornered and eaten alive by a pack of wolves. At one point, a horse dies and Hugh has to gut out its insides and sleep inside the carcass.
The Catholic Response
After Hugh Glass survives the bear attack, characters debate whether to keep him alive or to, as Tom Hardy so eloquently puts it, “Finish him off quick.” Utilitarian rhetoric is vilified in this movie, for it comes from the mouth of Hardy’s self-serving, opportunistic Fitzgerald. The characters who err on the side of respecting human dignity are Glass’ son, Hawk, and Captain Andrew Henry (Domhall Gleeson), the man who decides against shooting Glass. Given the leftist, secular nature of Hollywood, it was refreshing to see light being shed on the utilitarian sentiment so common in our culture.
Interestingly, Fitzgerald is also an embittered racist who makes derogatory slurs about Hugh’s son. He goes on to take advantage of Hugh’s weakened state so that he might snuff out Hawk as well. As the story develops, we begin to see the disdain Fitzgerald holds towards those who he perceives as less than or as a hindrance to him.
One word came to mind as I watched the Revenant: Hell.
This film is a devastating portrayal of human suffering. Every frame is riddled with despair, brutality, and vengeance. Regarding the nature of Hell, the Catechism states:
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. – Catechism of the Catholic Church #1035
Our Church professes that hell is a place of eternal pain and torment, a realm that offers its inhabitants no relief. Similarly, the Revenant’s wilderness is painted as a hell on earth where no human or animal passes through without battle scars. According to Saint Gregory the Great, “In Hell, there will be a fire that cannot be put out, a worm which cannot die, a stench one cannot bear, a darkness one can feel, a scourging by savage hands, with those present despairing of anything good.” There is little to no goodness to be found in Hugh Glass’ ordeal and the number of trials he faces increases as the film progresses. Throughout the Revenant’s almost three-hour run time, we witness Hugh Glass suffer agony after agony, enduring everything from being mauled to watching the murder of his son to falling from a cliff and landing in a tree. His trials continue to pile up with each passing day and all we, the audience, can do is watch the horrific spectacle. Granted, his predicament isn’t a form of punishment, but the gravity of his suffering is reminiscent of the terrors of Gehenna.
On another note, the climactic fight between Hugh and Fitzgerald ends with a group of Native Americans passing by on the other side of the river. “Revenge is in God’s hands, not mine,” Hugh says as he drags Fitzgerald into the river. Fitzgerald floats to the other side, where the chief finishes him off by scalping him. We see a shot of Hugh standing before a bloody trail in the snow. The Native American cross to his side of the river only to pass over him.
“Passover!” I exclaimed to my friend next to me. This scene calls to mind the Biblical Passover where the Israelites, through their covenant with God, avoided the consequences of the Angel of Death in Egypt. Granted, Fitzgerald is certainly not a lamb, but the Native Americans passing by Hugh when they should have been his Angel of Death made it hard to ignore this parallel.
As I say in all of my movie reviews, I’m sure that getting Biblical was not on Inarritu’s cinematic to-do list. However, the same God who has given us the ability to create art and present it in many forms (literature, cinema, etc.,) is the One who uses the hands of human artists as His instruments in making Himself known to His children.
The Revenant should be seen by as many people as possible. The incredible cinematography, Leonardo DiCaprio’s committed performance and the engaging story make this movie deserving of the Oscar nominations it has received. Cinephiles, or people who love all things cinema, will want to see The Revenant.
That all being said, moviegoers with certain sensitivities (fear of blood, a soft spot for animals, etc.,) may want to research the content of the film to determine whether or not they would be able to stomach this brutal tale of the desperation of man. I never want to deter anyone from seeing a fantastic film, but as the old adage goes, “Knowledge is power.” The more you know, the more prepared you will be.
Saint Patrick, pray for us.