The Revenant (Review)


Titles are a fascination for me. I have a good vocabulary, but I did not know what a revenant was. I took enough French to know it means “coming back,” or “one who comes back.” When you learn that French frontiersman are part of the plot, the French usage of that time for “ghost” or “spirit returned from the dead” makes sense.

Alejandro Inarritu’s latest film, The Revenant, was almost an epic. It was almost a saga. I saw the most realistic bear mauling scene imaginable. Frontier survival and lore may never have been made so candid and graphic (it’s winter, your horse just died and you lost your coat: what do you do?).

Per usual with this director, the action is interrupted with visits from the world of the spirit. The spiritual action shadows the physical as a lost wife intervenes to provide courage, and a band of Pawnee tracks the frontiersmen in search of a lost daughter. The Pawnee shaman, however, does not look down for clues; his soul seems to be probing for traces of her presence.

This story, supposedly based on real events, features Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugo Glass, a seasoned guide of the Dakota territories. He had lost his wife–a Pawnee woman–during a brutal raid, but their son is still with him as he tries to lead the fur trappers in and out of the rugged, snow-covered, country. We join the action far up the Missouri River as the expedition prepares to return by boat, laden with valuable furs. The plot takes a serious turn for the worse and from that point on, concepts of health, pain, shelter, and hunger take on new meaning. DiCaprio is believable, and the music, costumes, and cast are all superb, but Tom Hardy is exceptional and could easily win best supporting actor for his work as the antagonist Fitzgerald.

But if it weren’t for the sustaining elements of Inarritu’s magnificent canvas and song, the constant press of nature, injury, and the impossible choices left by the frontier reality would make for travail: the long film would be its own exercise in emotional endurance. The Revenant was almost a great film. Best picture?

Not quite, but it could win on a very classy effort.

If you’re the empathetic type and you plan to see the film, have a little extra food handy and wear a scarf during the movie. If you had some minor aches or pains going into the film, you probably won’t be thinking about them as you witness a different kind of threshold for pain.


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