For a writer of entertainment articles, there are big gaps in my cinema knowledge. As you can tell from the number of reviews I am posting of iconic movies, I am trying to change that. Today I am going to talk to you about ‘The Revenant’.
This movie is an astonishing feat of human ingenuity. At the centre of this vast project, is a cautionary tale. The unmapped wilderness is captured in all its majestic and terrifying glory.
The story warns of the dangers of colonisation and the exploitation of the natural world. The only people in the movie that do not meet a bitter end, are the native Americans.
After all, they are equipped to deal with the wild and at home in it. Iñárritu gives nature a conciousness, a vengeful and merciless personality.
These themes, the elemental nature of ‘The Revenant’ are echoed in the symbolism; directing and dialogue. Everything works together, exactly like…an echo system.
The first shots of the movie perfectly capture that sensation of the elements untamed. We see the cinematic effects of wind, then fire, helpful and destructive in equal measure and finally, water.
A river appears to have burst its banks somewhere so that water is flowing through a forest, meandering between the trees. This gives the sensation that we are just witnessing nature in its most raw state. That spontaneity defines the movie.
Sets are not needed, Iñárritu uses the dramatic landscapes of Canada. The camp attack sequence is awe inspiring. The production team must have built a camp across acres of actual land.
When the base is attacked, hundreds of natives and frontiersmen fight simultaneously while trees fall in flames. Frontiermen escape to a boat as the camera follows them through the foaming river. The camera joins them on the boat and turns, giving their perspective as others try to clamber aboard. This is all captured in a single breathtaking shot.
Directing techniques in this film would not look out of place in a Francis Ford Coppola film. ‘The Godfather’ has the same atmosphere of realism. Coppola used the same directorial technique of organising an event and allowing the scene to take on a life of its own, with hundreds of performers living in the moment.
The violence feels brutally realistic. However, this is necessary to illustrate the madness of the time. The bear attack scene is horrifying and visceral. As a plot point it provides the biggest trial for Hugh to come back from but in a deeper sense, it symbolises the savage nature of the wilderness.
‘The Revenant’ is not just an objective piece of history, there is an emotional core to the movie, Glass’ backstory and his relationship with Hawk.
There is a beautiful piece of symbolism in one of Hugh’s flashbacks. When he recalls the invasion of the settlement he was living in, we see the death of a woman he loved. A bird flys out of her pocket as she slips away. This symbolises her soul leaving the physical vessel and returning to nature.
The aforementioned realism, as well as superb performances from DiCaprio and Hardy, makes the final confrontation gripping. I will leave you to make your own conclusions about the final moments.
It is tough going, I have seen longer run times than this which feel shorter. There is a pacing issue here. However, this is an incredible piece of work overall. It may feel like a slog at times but ‘The Revenant’ is essential viewing for any film fan and an unforgettable journey.