The Revenant (2015): Part I
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Writer: Mark L. Smith and Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki
by Jon Cvack
It’s a great gift when a film provides that rare post-viewed feeling, leaving you in a trance for the whole ride home. You’re not sure what to do for the rest of day as everything all seems so banal by comparison. The feeling often lasts for days. This isn’t the same as seeing a flawless perfect movie. Bridge of Spies and The Big Short were phenomenal A+, 10/10 films. The Revenant, though, was something unlike I’ve ever felt before. The last time I’ve had this experience might have been with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. It was one of the films I was determined to avoid seeing or reading anything about. I succumbed to watching a teaser trailer after my friend convinced me it was vague and spoiler free. That iconic image played, with the avalanche coming down the mountain in the distance. I instantly regretted watching it and sure enough, for a reason we couldn’t figure out, the video froze. I only saw thirty seconds. The YouTube trailer ended up being shared seven million times in its opening day.
Alejandro Inarritu and Emmanuel Lubezski were able to take the poetry of a Terrence Malick film and apply it to a high budgeted, studio release. It harkened back to the days of the mega epics by the likes of Ben-Hur or Lawrence of Arabia. It was the perfect blend of art and accessibility. It’s politics are transcendent, allowing you to take whatever you want from the story. I’d have to watch it again and again to explore and deconstruct it all.
Finishing the film only a few days before writing this, the initial post-feeling I couldn’t shake was the hopelessness of it all. There was something very dark about the story. Given the classical ‘will to survive’ philosophy that arched throughout the narrative, found in films like Cast Away, The Edge, and The Great Escape, it was refreshing to finally have it operate within such a cynical environment. I understand why some see the film as expressing humanity's curse to push its own limits to the very brink; containing a frightening view of the world, in which man fights man, willing to kill at any cost. One friend told me Hugh Glass continued on to avenge his murdered child, thus categorizing it as a classic revenge film. Not that it’s wrong, I just didn’t see it in such simple terms. I saw a man who had nothing except the determination not to give up. Not for his child, or to kill, or get rich. Simply to live as long as he possibly could as a human being.
There was something very real about this story that could have easily been done poorly or in a far plainer and hackneyed way. Alejandro Iñárritu pulled from Emmanuel Lubezki’s style in the Tree of Life and The New World. For a second you think it’s a Terrence Malick film, and then quickly discover it’s something entirely new. They are taking the same poetic style and applying it to a different, more traditional story, creating something that is accessible and profoundly affecting anyone who sees it. It merged the worlds between ‘art film’ and Hollywood Epic, creating something so real and visceral that I’m sure countless others will attempt to imitate it, and I fear Malick is going to look uninspired from here on out, rather than the maverick he is. And yet so it goes with the geniuses who create a new form of expression, which is taken and improved by others.
I’ve been wondering what it’s about. It’s has to do with survival, yes, and that’s a superficial first layer. It’s also about the will to survive to any cost, simply as a celebration for the brief amount of time we exist here on this Earth. The men left Hugh Glass to die because he was a burden on them and their Fir sales; a luxury item bought by the upper classes, and serving no relevance to most Americans or any of the men in the troupe. They’re stationed at a Fort in the middle of nowhere, where the Natives take shelter outside, seeking security from the other tribes, knowing what the women will experience, forced into prostitution, facing rape and assault. There aren’t nearly enough women for the men, whose minds rot against the cold, overcast weather. The place looks like Hell, reserved only for those most desperate. Everyone is vicious, concerned mostly for themselves, exerting the minimal amount of effort for anyone else. It’s all so selfish.
Continue on to Part II...
BELOW: The Revenant "A World Unseen" Making-Of documentary
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