(MINOR SPOILER ALERT. Sorry. It couldn’t be helped, but I tried to keep it to a dull roar…)
I first heard the word ‘revenant’ on one of the many horror podcasts that I listen to, totally out of context. I was intrigued by the word as I was aware of the upcoming movie release of the same name, and truthfully I didn’t really know what it meant. A revenant was described as a ghost or spirit that returns from the dead, usually for a very specific reason and it seemed to be very personal. Sometimes to right a great wrong, sometimes to satiate an unrequited love. Think James O’ Barr’s, The Crow. In a less mystical definition, a revenant can also be someone that has returned from a very long absence.
I believe that the journey we take in life is largely fueled by our desires, our passions and the way we choose to love. The Revenant was one of the most gorgeous and heartbreaking examples of this I have ever seen on film. I am still taking it all in, and I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.
The film tells the story of Hugh Glass, played with glorious reckless abandon by Leo di Caprio. I have not done any extensive research, but I am fairly certain he was a real person and I am also fairly certain that some liberties were taken with his story. We are introduced to the harsh realities of what it was like to live in the wilds of pre-Civil War America. Glass was a fur trapper. The French and the Indians were allies and settlers in the New World were busy eradicating the Native population. Whatever kind of romantic notions you may have about settlers in the fur trade charting new courses and discovering new lands, I assure you this film shatters all of those elementary school archetypal representations. Sure, trading pelts for pretty beads sounds very amicable, but you should probably hold on to your scalp and scour the tree-tops for arrows trained on your heart…
Glass had the blessing and the good misfortune of falling in love with a Native American woman and fathering a son with her. He lived among the Native people and learned their language and their way of life. He learned to track and navigate which made him invaluable to the fur traders. When we first meet Glass, it is made apparent that he has suffered great loss and he’s now going to protect the only thing that he has left in this mortal world, his half Native American son. The fur trappers tolerate the boy, but some of them make their disdain abundantly clear. Glass has taught his son that most people will only see the color of his skin and not the soul inside. As a defense mechanism, he instructs the boy to be invisible. It’s clear that the boy is his heart and so his journey begins…
Ambush attacks suck. We don’t do warfare like that anymore. Not that it never happens, but it’s unlikely that you would be camping in the wilds of the Dakota’s and have an entire tribe of Indian’s mutilate most of your companions. A bloody attack ensues and most of the furs and a lot of the trappers were lost in an effort to get to the boats and save what they could. Talk of the violence in this film preceded it’s release. I was not concerned with it. In my opinion, it was not gratuitous, it was honest. I have always struggled trying to recreate battles and old styles of warfare in my head. It’s so foreign to me. I am satisfied that what I saw on the screen was as close to accurate as I am ever going to see. It was horrific, but I felt it.
After the attack, morale is down and the captain decides to set the boat loose and go it on foot. One of the men in particular is not too jazzed about this decision. Tom Hardy plays Fitzgerald-a somewhat shady character that you just know is going to show his ass before long. The furs have been forfeited and with them the profits of their six months of hard work. Fitzgerald is starting to break down and it’s apparent that he’s going to take it out on Hawk, Glass’s son. Tensions are beyond high.
Glass sets out on a scouting mission in the nearby woods as the imminent threat of another attack looms. On a very personal note, I happen to love hiking. I feel most connected when I am outdoors especially deep in the woods. This film was the most visually stunning eye candy for me. I loved everything about the way it was filmed. Nature is magical and the beauty you encounter is singular. I was able to experience the feelings I get when I’m completely enveloped by the outdoors. The awe and the peacefulness that I feel when I’m all alone in the woods was conveyed on film and it was gorgeous. I was not shocked or surprised when Glass encountered a bear. A grizzly to be exact. He had the unfortunate displeasure of being situated between her and her two cubs. Every outdoorsman will tell you this is a consummate no-no. They will also tell you that although you need to be cautious, it’s not always a death sentence. I have on at least two occasions been in the same situation with more docile black bears and I’m here to tell the tale. But alas, for our protagonist, mama bear attacks him in what I will say is the most horrific animal attack scene you will ever witness on film. The CGI for fur is still lacking, but the effect was still chilling. Broken and shredded, Glass is all but left for dead.
Miraculously he is found, alive, by the others. They sew him up as well as they can and fashion a make-shift gurney for him. Fiercely loyal, at least most of them, they refuse to give up hope as they credit Glass with getting them as far as they have safely. They will carry him if they have to, and they do-until it becomes clear that the harsh terrain won’t allow for it. It’s decided that a few volunteers will stay behind with Glass while the others go on and try to get help. A proper burial is agreed upon if need be as no one really expects him to live. Strangely, Fitzgerald elects to stay with Glass along with Hawk and another young hunter called Bridger.
There really is no way not to spoil this next bit as it’s paramount to the story. Fitzgerald takes matters into his own hands and decides that Glass should be left for dead. He kills Hawk and lies to the other young trapper, Bridger, who believes that Hawk set off on his own, convincing him to leave Glass behind. This is where the story really begins-you see, Glass witnessed the whole thing. He watched Fitzgerald stab his son. He was immobile and gravely wounded, but he was cognizant. He was helpless and it was heartbreaking to witness.
This is where the journey I spoke of earlier really begins. Desire. Passion. Love. That is what drives a ‘return from the dead’. Glass refused to die because he HAD to live. He had to revenge his son. There was no questioning it. There was no pain. There was only living so that he could love his son the only way that was still possible. The path his life takes from here on out is nothing short of ridiculous but you never get the sense that he’s superhuman or that he’s special. He’s simply a man that will live so that he can love. That is literally all he has left. One last breath.
I will only describe the next part of Glass’s journey as one brutal turn of events after another. I was so far into the film that the friends I saw it with had to physically shake me a few times to get my attention. I was completely engulfed, practically sucked into the big screen. I was immersed in icy waters, I was careening off of cliffs, I was surrounded by death. My body was wrecked. I lost friends. It was intense to say the least and something I hope every one of you reading this take the time to experience for yourself.
It should come as no surprise that Glass does eventually exact his revenge. The way it comes full-circle was poetic. The journey ends the only way that it ever could and all you feel is love. Father to son. There’s no pity. There’s no heroism. There’s only one last breath.
Leo di Caprio and Tom Hardy are true modern masters. I was so taken with their performances in this film. You’ll hear a lot of buzz, but all of it is legit. This film was special and I will be feeling it for a long time.