The Revenant ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
The Revenant (meaning “one who returns from the dead”) is set in the 1820s in an unspecified American wilderness where there are Indians, snow and bears. It’s an inhospitable place for men, especially white men, but that doesn’t keep them from being there. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a character named Hugh Glass who doesn’t believe in giving up as long as he has a breath left in his body. He and his half-Indian son named Hawk (his Indian wife is killed) are with a party of trappers. Their troubles begin when they are set upon by Indians who want to steal the pelts they have gathered to use in trading with the French. The Indians mean business and are proficient with killing white men with their arrows (often through the neck). A lot of the men in the trapping party are killed, while Hugh Glass, his son, and a handful of others get away.
In an encounter with a very angry grizzly bear, Hugh Glass is horribly injured. When the men of his party find him, he is near death. They do what they can for him, which isn’t much, and they expect him to die quickly. At least one of them, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), wants Glass to die as soon as possible so they can move on before they are attacked by Indians again (and so he can get the money he has coming to him and go to Texas and buy some land). When Glass lingers for days (with his son Hawk always by his side), they are going to “do the proper thing” and shoot him in the head for the sake of their own convenience, but their leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) can’t go through with it. He agrees to leave volunteers behind to look after Glass until they can get back to civilization and send somebody after them. Hawk, of course, volunteers to stay behind, along with Fitzgerald and a very young man named Bridger (Will Poulter).
When Hawk finds Fitzgerald trying to smother his helpless father, he, of course, tries to stop him. Fitzgerald ends up killing Hawk, which Glass sees from where he is lying on the ground. Fitzgerald then attempts to bury Glass in a very shallow grave, even though he is still alive. Fitzgerald lies to the only person remaining, the decent Bridger, and tells him they are about to be attacked again by Indians and that they have to leave quickly before they are killed. Bridger doesn’t feel right about going off and leaving Glass, but he does it because he believes it is his only choice, leaving behind his canteen of water for Glass.
Glass lives and claws himself out of the makeshift grave that Fitzgerald put him in. He can barely walk but he somehow survives alone in the wilderness, eating fish or dead meat or whatever disgusting food he can find. Along the way he is befriended and helped by an Indian who sees how badly he is wounded. When a snowstorm hits, the friendly Indian builds a shelter for Glass to stay in. When the snowstorm passes and Glass awakes, he finds that his Indian friend has been hanged by a band of Frenchmen. As Glass gradually gains strength and is able to walk again, he has one thought in his head: to find Fitzgerald and make him pay for killing his son Hawk, the only thing, Glass says, that he has in the world. This is a story that reminds us how cruel and unrelenting nature is for every living thing (or indifferent, depending on how you look at it). And, of course, the most brutal beast in the wilderness is always going to be man.
Filmed using only natural light, The Revenant is somber and dark (not only in tone but in the way it looks), as it takes place in the winter when there is a heavy cloud cover. With its snowy vistas, rivers, animals, etc., it is beautiful to look at, absent any bright colors. The bear attack early in the movie and the Indian raid have an intense “you are there” feel to them. The music score is haunting and memorable. People will complain about the all-male cast but, after all, this is not Pride and Prejudice.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp