Bleak. Disturbing. Disgusting. These are just some of the many words that can be used to describe Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant. They belong to one end of the spectrum. On the other end of the spectrum, the film can be called a tour de force.
The film is not for the faint of heart, the queasy and the pearl-clutchers. It is 156 minutes of testing the human body, mind and will to their limits. Iñárritu uses his lead star, Leonardo DiCaprio, as the canvas to paint his masterpiece: 50 Shades of Torture.
DiCaprio plays the role of fur trapper Hugh Glass. As Glass leads his group out of reach of the hostile and deadly Arikara Native Americans, he encounters a grizzly bear. To say that they fought would be misleading; it is a one-sided match in which the animal with more hair gets the upper hand. The bear pounds Glass like bread dough. Twice. I winced and covered my eyes when I heard bones breaking.
Watching the bear toy around with Glass’s body like it was feather was a moral dilemma. On one hand, it tortures me to watch human suffering. On the other hand, with some twisted logic, it seems like my right to watch DiCaprio suffer this much for a role so he can get his Oscar trophy. He uglified himself for the role, like most of the recent winners. His face is covered with wild hair of all kinds, and his body with blood, mostly his. After the fight with the bear, he resembles a badly-hacked piece of meat.
I know it is based on actual events, but how Glass survives the bear mauling is beyond me. If one thinks that it is rainbows and butterflies after that is dead wrong. The encounter with the bear is just the first step in the series of unfortunate events for DiCaprio to win an Oscars Glass.
While Glass is fighting for his life, his bitter fellow fur trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) disobeys an order from their captain, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), kills Glass’s son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and leaves Glass for dead. Fitzgerald drags the immobile Glass into a grave meant for him once he dies. Hardy’s Fitzgerald is such a badass villain who does not give a flying pig about others. One has to admire an antagonist as committed as this guy. It is noteworthy that beneath the beard, blood and unwashed look, Hardy remains attractive.
The survivor gene hardwired into Glass’s system forces him to dig himself out of the pit. Then, he says his final farewell to the corpse of his son. Still with broken bones and frail body, he wheezes and crawls his way to their outpost. While Glass’s lines are reduced to grunts, the physical beating he gets amplifies, but he is also a badass protagonist who will not die!
At this point, I did not really care about the story; the story IS Glass and DiCaprio’s stamina to take on the physicality of the role. DiCaprio’s Glass shivers in the cold, dives into icy water and lets the rapids drag him, eats raw bison meat, takes the intestines of a dead horse out and crawls inside it naked to survive the unforgiving cold. He does all these with a decaying body. If these and the ugliest version of himself will not win him the Oscar, I do not know what will.
As DiCaprio is being tortured, one can see the magnificent view of towering trees, untamed waters and powdery snow. The contrast between his suffering and the majestic creations of God is not lost on me. However, I think that the last scene is the money shot. It is real and haunting. For that alone, I am mentally giving the golden statue to DiCaprio (I am writing this a day before the Academy Awards ceremony).
Watching The Revenant makes me think of three things. First, it seems like everybody involved in the production has a pact to help DiCaprio win the Oscar. It must be physically and mentally punishing to do a film like this. Second, the film is at least 40 minutes long. It is a beautiful film and the cinematography is breathtaking, but how many times does one need to watch DiCaprio cough up blood? Lastly, are the visions of Glass’s wife necessary?
The Revenant is one of the eight Best Picture Nominees for this year’s Academy Awards. 3/8 done.