The Revenant (2015)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck
Director of Photography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai, Bryce Dessner
Edited by Stephen Mirrione
Written by Mark L. Smith & Alejandro González Iñárritu
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Rating: 9,5 out of 10
The Revenant is a breath-taking movie, a visceral experience that not many movies can provide and while it may not be super-deep (as some critics accuse it to be), it resonated deeply with me on a pure emotional and symbolic level. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a great performance, but then he always does, so a real surprise for me was Tom Hardy. His performance is impressive in the many layers he finds for his character and put him on my radar (where DiCaprio has been for a while already). But no review could ignore the director Alejandro González Iñárritu because the movie is really noteworthy for its amazing filming style. The incredible long takes, the beautiful shots of snow and forests and mountains and horizons, the savageness of many scenes and at the same time the courage to analyze how we depict others as savages. Emmanuel Lubezki must be one of the greatest cinematographers of our time and he would just with this movie and Children of Men alone (and I loved the similarities like the blood on the lenses). The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto (and many others) is great, even the visual effects work quite well for such a seemingly naturalistic movie. I loved it and wasn’t bored for a second of its 152 minutes, even if not that much happens.
The movie deals with Native Americans in a much bigger way than I was aware of before going in. It does an incredible job of portraying them in many different ways, in neither vilifying nor glorifying them, in depicting the genocide that our culture committed on them, over and over again, in showing the consequences. Some images or ideas are a little too heavy-handed and it remains the story of a white man, but it makes most other movies about Native Americans look as ignorant as they actually are. But it doesn’t simply pity them but instead just shows how mistreated they were and what the Wild West really looked like: a collection of mass murder, rape, enslavement, poverty for the benefit of the “civilized” people looking for money and land.
(spoilers from now on)
On a similar note, the movie dissects our culture that was (and is) responsible for these crimes by questioning its very basics. Glass (DiCaprio) lives in both worlds in the beginning, with a Pawnee wife and a son at the beginning and later as a guide for the American fur traders. When the bear attacks him, it could almost be seen as a kind of revenge that he helped the greed of the settlers, that he furthered their “take more than you need”-approach that is very visible in the opening scene, especially with Fitzgerald (Hardy). Later, after Glass is left for dead and resurrects himself, it is clear that revenge is on his mind, as he continues writing the same sentence wherever he settles down. When he meets another Hikuc (Arthur RedCloud), another Pawnee, he tells him that his family was killed by whites but that “revenge is in the creator’s hands,” implying that man cannot attempt to act like a god. When Glass in the end gets his chance for revenge, he doesn’t kill Fitzgerald but lets him float down the river instead where the other tribe, the Arikara, are waiting for him.
Now, they then don’t seem to hesitate to take vengeance out on him, as earlier Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o) doesn’t wait to get back at her French rapist. But in both instances they don’t abandon their path just to get revenge, they just take their chance in the moment they get it. That Fitzgerald is killed by the Natives instead seems fitting, as he is the clearest representative of our culture. In a great scene he tells Bridger (Will Poulter) how his father once found god in a squirrel and decided to kill it. His father basically threw god of his throne to enforce his own rules and that is how Fitzgerald still lives.
Glass in the end doesn’t seem to be sure to which culture he belongs. Our culture didn’t do anything to him but kill his family, but with the death of his family his connection to the other culture seems to fade away too, as the ghost of his wife disappears in the end. In the final and one of my favorite shots of the whole movie, Glass looks longingly after her and then turns his head and looks straight at us, as if he was asking us what to do or where to go. The movie doesn’t provide a clear answer because while it clearly shows the suffering of the Natives by the hands of the Civilizers, it still picks a hero who is living in between those two cultures. The first shot of the movie is the companion piece, the image of Glass sleeping peacefully next to his son, a perfect harmony of cultures, that is juxtaposed with the last shot through everything we followed Glass on his torturous journey. So by looking at the camera, Glass and the movie, leave it to us to make a decision and that is exactly what any great movie should attempt to do, to break through the illusion and rouse us in our seats. You can call Iñárritu pretentious if you like, but I can only admire his ambition.