There are films, there are epics and then there is The Revenant! This sheer grandiloquence of this film is not merely about the size of the production but also about the sheer effort and exertion of everyone involved. It is the willingness of the cast and crew to reach the edge of their physical and mental extremes that makes The Revenant a very exhausting yet exhilarating watch. There is nothing small, economical or subdued about it. It is a huge film, both literally and figuratively, starring one of the biggest stars at present and helmed by arguably the most acclaimed director of this decade.
The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper (professional hunters trapping animals for fur trade) in the 1820s. He really did exist but the filmmaker takes enough liberties to turn it to a larger than life revenge saga instead of a realistic biopic. It is also important to note the period the film is set in. It was still early days of the US as a nation and more remote corners of the continents were still being explored. These traders partly doubled up as mercenaries with colonial ambitions and the native Indian tribes still ruled the hinterlands, occasionally fighting and occasionally cooperating with the new settlers.
So, during one such expedition, Glass is attacked by a bear. He manages to kill it but is seriously injured. Unable to carry him, most of his team moves on, leaving two young boys including Glass’s son and another seasoned hunter Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) to help him till he recuperates. But Fitzgerald has no patience for this and thus he kills the son and runs away with the other boy, leaving an immobile Glass to die. He reaches his base and concocts a story to collect a reward for his “bravery”. However, unfortunately for him, Glass does not die and makes up his mind to seek revenge although he still has to survive the assaults of the nature as well as the hostile tribes.
While the Revenant is revenge story at the core, it is also a saga of human spirit and its struggle with the nature and its elements. The stark wilderness of the American Midwest is no longer the same. That is why Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has shot the film in certain distant corners of Canada and Argentina, that too during the most difficult of the seasons instead of relying only on CGI.
As for the performances, Tom Hardy makes a perfect antagonist and is almost unrecognizable as Fitzgerald in a good way. But eventually this film was written for and does belong completely to Leonardo Decaprio who, not surprisingly, commits his body and soul to play Glass. He gets mauled by the bear, gets shot and stabbed by fellow humans, falls off the cliffs, rolls down the hillocks, nearly drowns in rapid streams and gets buried in the snow. However, he refuses to die even though nobody else expects him to live and the good part here is that it is a real story, some exaggerations notwithstanding. So, if you can endure through his travails, eventually you get rewarded with a very uplifting story that makes you feel better about your own capabilities as a human being. Also, finally, we can call Decaprio a frontrunner for the Oscars this year.
On the other hand, Inarritu now has reached a stage where he has nothing left to achieve. Only last year he swept all the awards with Birdman. So, this time he decides to push the physical limits of his film, his actors and of himself and yet again succeeds resoundingly. The other star of this film is of course the cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who is on an Oscar Hattrick this year. He takes his craft to an otherworldly height with The Revenant. Even though we have already seen Lubezki’s genius in films like Gravity and Birdman, some of the long sequences in The Revenant still makes one wonder if it is really possible to shoot like that. These shots have been ably assisted by the ominous music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto.
The Revenant is not an easy watch by any means, especially if you are used to the lighter stuff that are only supposed to “entertain”. However, once you manage to train your heart and your stomach, it should be an experience of a lifetime and not just another movie for the weekend.