Rant and Rave: The Revenant

It’s Oscar season again, and director Alejandro González Iñárritu is back this year with another seemingly unstoppable film. Iñárritu, director of last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture Birdman, is back this year with a movie that seems to be the polar opposite of his last foray into film. The Revenant is the gritty survival story of Hugh Glass, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. A frontier scout, Glass is left to fend for himself after being nearly fatally wounded by a bear attack. A hate-filled tale of pain, loss, and revenge, the film may seem too artistic at times for mainstream audiences. However, it remains an altogether visually stunning, yet by and large emotionally stunted, experience of frontier justice and revenge.

A gray world in black and white

The Revenant is set in the almost naturally grayscale American north. The characters, however, lack such a description. Where the characters from Birdman, last year’s Iñárritu film, were layered and complicated human beings that many could relate to, the characters in The Revenant are disappointingly one-dimensional, making it difficult for viewers to develop any kind of attachment to them. There was a very distinct and impermeable barrier between the good guys and the bad guys.

That monochromatic distinction ends, to a certain degree, with the individual characters. While the entirety of the Caucasian race is portrayed either as the ultimate evil or, at the very least, cowardly, our protagonist Glass, who goes “native,” is, of course, the one exception to this. It seems that no act of cruelty is beyond many of the white characters of this film, while the vast majority of the Native Americans, on the other hand, are portrayed as a downtrodden and defeated people. Those who aren’t portrayed as docile foreigners in their own land are instead an angry and vengeful race, prone to wanton violence against any white man within range of their bows and rifles.

While this kind of one-dimensionality is disappointing, the film still succeeds in welcoming the memory of the ancestors of the Native American people, whose population dwindles in modern America, back into the zeitgeist. The acts of heroism and savagery committed on both sides paint a gritty picture of a truly tragic time in human history.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Beauty in the savage north

What the film lacks in dialogue or character development, it more than makes up for in the sheer beauty of its shots. This film is a definite must-watch for anyone who appreciates cinematography. Iñárritu, who also bagged last year’s Academy Award for Best Director, is in top form. He is able to utilize the bleak Canadian tundra and give it a mythical, almost otherworldly feel. The full majesty of the American north is on full display in this film as Iñárritu is able to portray the 19th century frontier in such a way that makes the viewer stand in awe of its beauty, but at the same time, fear its awesome power.

The eyes have it

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, the film’s spirit of vengeance, gives possibly his most dedicated performance yet. Limited by his character’s inability to speak in complete sentences as a result of his injuries, Leo is forced to carry the pain, anguish, and anger his character feels almost entirely with his eyes. He is able to make the audience feel for and root for Glass with hardly a word being spoken, and is able to portray Glass’ struggle with such realism that, at times, the viewer forgets that the actor himself is in no pain. To put it simply, Leo’s performance is able to blur the lines between the real world and the world of cinema. And much like how the deprivation of one sense heightens the others, the weaknesses in The Revenant’s script truly allow Leo to flex his muscles as one of the finest actors of our time.

While the movie suffers from flaws with regards to its characters and script, and can, at times, feel too artistic for the casual moviegoer, it remains a visually stunning piece, one whose amazing cinematography is something to behold. This, combined with DiCaprio’s realism and raw emotion (will this be the year he finally bags the big one?), allow The Revenant to still shine as a beautiful cinematic offering.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Jaime Papa

By Jaime Papa

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