Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Revenant

2015, Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman) -- Netflix

Holy crap, he fights a bear and almost dies!

That is the primary take away from the Internet hype machine. But no, much like other Iñárritu movies, the real focus is surviving only to come out the other side changed. So, yes he survives a bear attack, but that's only the beginning.

1823; trappers in the mountains of Louisiana -- almost the entirety of the western frontier was called Louisiana back then, a massive untamed wilderness still populated by Indian tribes and rife with furs. The trappers are attacked an incredible, wonderful scene with long shots and wide swings of the camera taking it in from all angles. For a moment, I thought I was watching a Cuarón movie. The survivors escape into the wilderness, pursued, among them is Hugh Glass (Leonardo Dicaprio) and his rival John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Hardy is in his element wearing thick skins and an even thicker hillbilly accent, a man tortured by having survived a scalping and annoyed at Glass's connection to the land. Dicaprio is Dicaprio, intense and focused and a little messed up. Enter lots of solemn, hazy remembrances.

Despite the sweeping epic of that opening scene, what struck me the most was the dialogue -- these are not men speaking in period accents, but seemed to be just a bunch of rural men speaking in rural tones, from all over the country, i.e. your classic redneck dialects. Even Domhnall Gleeson, playing the lone officer in charge of these wild men, carries off a decent aged American accent.

And then the fateful bear fight. It is simple enough, Glass bumps into the bear cubs and knows he is in trouble, spinning just in time to see the upset mama. Silly man thinks he can take it down with a one shot musket. After a big of rag dolling, and a bit of desperate stabbing, she does actually go down. Poor cubs.

The others find Glass, barely alive, torn up three ways to Sunday, and have to decide what to do next. They are still being pursued by the Indians, they still have the heavy load of whatever furs they escaped with and its not likely Glass with survive long. The deal ends with Fitzgerald, Glass's son and a young trapper staying behind with Glass, to be with him until his dying breath. Fitz, of course and who didn't see this coming, decides to just do away with Glass and his son, and head back to civilization for the furs, the pay day and the extra for having stayed with Glass.

And thus starts the real movie.

Glass survives, through sheer stubborn will and a desire for revenge. It drives him to drag his broken body across the ground, to gain strength from berries and twigs, to ride a river to safety, to take refuge with a friendly native, to just keep on going and going and going. The transformation comes with the typical spirituality you expect of these movies, but at the heart, it is human. To catch the man who killed his son, who left him to die, is all that Glass wants. He has nothing left in life.

Does he learn anything after having caught up with Glass? A little, but really, this movie is about seeing through what you set out to do, not a moral challenge for or against revenge. Once Glass has caught Fitz, the drive seems to fizzle out, and for the first time in weeks he seems to deflate, to relax. Unfortunately, now he has the rest of his life to face.

In case you were wondering, a revenant is an undead spirit, one that comes back from the grave to seek revenge on those who did him wrong.

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