December 25, 2015

The Revenant

Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, 2015
Watching The Revenant reminds you of how good our modern civilization has it. Not having to scavenge for fur in the wild to sell to get by. Not having to endure unforgiving weather in some rinky-dink shelter, cold wintry wind blowing at the thin walls. Living in the early 1800's involved you trying to avoid frostbite while also trying to avoid arrows piercing your skull from a Native American ambush.

Survival is a constant theme in the film. What it takes to survive. What you are actually living for. Or who are you living for. Do you have anything worth living for. These questions circulate through the Hugh Glass character, played by Leonardo Dicaprio. He had fallen in love with a Native American woman, had a child with her. The Pawnee people were able to give him love, skills, and happiness. He then had to watch so much of it being stripped away from him. As if his lost love wasn't enough hardship for him, he is then brutally mauled by a bear in the woods while trying to guide his fellow men. It's hard to think of a character in a film that has to bear so much misery as Glass, who really spends most of the movie being treated like a rag-doll hanging on by a thread. Dicaprio is really impressive with the Glass character. Instead of being a voiceless crawler through the film, he does a really good job of playing out all of the aches and pains as if you were able to feel some of it yourself. Tom Hardy is just as good as John Fitzgerald, the man who abandons Glass and leaves him to die. It's hard to even see Hardy at first through the thick beard and layers of clothing. Soon after discovering it's him you forget again.

What plays out in The Revenant becomes a duality of survival and revenge, all painted on a cinematic canvas that Inniratu and Co. clearly was trying to perfect - and maybe did. The nature pillow shots. The snow floating across the screen. There's even a scene where Glass is laying on the ground breathing onto the camera lens, and there's a seamless transition to some mountain mist and grey clouds. Credit must be made to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, who worked with Innaritu on last year's Oscar Winning Birdman but has a career filled with working with skilled directors like Terrence Malick and Alfonso Cuaron. It's interesting because from a visual perspective, The Revenant feels a lot like a blend of Children of Men and The Tree of Life (which Lubeski was DP on) in terms of harsh erratic exterior elements mixed with abstract dream-like flair. The rumors were running wild during the production of the film, having you think it was going to be Innaritu's Apocalypse Now. Perhaps it is, as the entire film was shot chronologically over the course of three months, and Innaritu was adamant about only using natural light in the film which gave them only a few hours to shoot every day. Apparently there was production turnover from people who just couldn't handle the conditions. But The Revenant feels like one of those films that is going to be talked about for decades to come. Innaritu is clearly at the peak of his career, and those lucky enough to work alongside him are probably not going to regret enduring the harsh conditions during production.

If anything The Revenant feels a bit lengthy, partly due to the dream sequences and some of the more abstract elements, but nothing in the film feels unnecessary or dragged out. It's a movie that is bound to have more fruit to bear on multiple viewings, and I certainly plan on seeing it again as soon as I am able to. Undoubtedly one of 2015's best.

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