I love this movie. It’s fun exercise, a big-budget frontier tale and a chase through bitter cold across deadly terrain. The number of times Hugh Glass faces death becomes countless. He fights everything.
Leonardo DiCaprio struggles and suffers, but I think he won an Oscar for bringing the sad. This movie is better if it makes you feel terrible. Art is not nice.
Paralyzed by wounds, DiCaprio’s Glass watches from only a few feet away as his family is murdered. He freaks the fuck out, shows us what bottomless anger and sadness mix into (mostly spittle). Freezing and mauled, his every movement hurts, but the emotional pain seems worse. He lugs grief through recovery and subsequent hard-core revenge quest.
In exchange for forgoing warm feelings, The Revenant rewards us with a thrill ride. More than thirty men get killed in the first fight. The most memorable scene absolutely looks and feels like Glass is being shredded apart by an angry bear, and he wins that fight! The action scenes are life-or-death, charged with momentum and ensconced in an icy glow both beautiful and merciless. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu famously shot only when natural lighting was perfect. Sounds like a pain in the ass for the filmmakers, but the effect is a glimmering sapphire tint. Nature is hard as steel.
The plot is thin, but that’s OK. Story ain’t a star. The stars are DiCaprio, and Tom Hardy as the remorseless half-scalped murderer Glass hunts. The lighting is a star, and the cinematography’s seamless flow through thundering violence. The setting is a star: Ice, snow, wind and water are more powerful than the bear, they just work slower.
Objective correlative: the setting, the mountain, expresses emotions. Trees respond to Glass; when his son dies, they freak the fuck out too. Much later, when he comes upon a murdered friend, Glass’s face stays placid while in the background an avalanche rumbles and tumbles.
Man and nature; sad and awesome. In the pantheon of westerns, among not just movies but shows like Deadwood and books like Lonesome Dove, The Revenant will endure.