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The Revenant

PostPosted: Tue Jan 12, 2016 11:28 pm
by CAP
Basically this is Leonardo DiCaprio does A Man Called Horse. It drags on though, quite literally and I give it just six mainly for the wonderful scenery. Lenny plays Hugh Glass, one of those hybrid figures, half frontiersman, half injun, we’re familiar with from Little Big Man to Dances with Wolves. They usher in a tragic perspective on the relentless conquest of North America. Meet America the rapacious. That’s background though. The story concerns Glass’s revenge upon the ruthless trapper John Fitzgerald (an all-but-unrecognisable Tom Hardy) after being left for dead somewhere in The Rockies (Montana? North Dakota?) following a near-fatal mauling by a Grizzly Bear and the murder of his teenage son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) a half-Pawnee. Glass is nominally guide for an army hunting party, deep into Indian Territory in 1823. His Pawnee wife had previously died in an army attack on their tribal camp (definitely shades of Little Big Man) so I guess you could say these things come in threes. Hugh pretty much loses everything right there in a freezing mountain forest and this drives the unstoppable quest for revenge that will see him drag himself, horribly mutilated and half lame, back to some frontier army fort, somehow out of the mountains onto the plains, then back into the mountains... Huh? But it cannot ever improve his lot obviously, as he eventually comes to realise, but still – revenge. Natural justice - yeah!

And beneath it all: America - The Guilt Trip, for all those early expeditious expeditions that they can never really escape from, no matter how far they’ve come, for the nemesis that will continue to dog them. That’s the subtext here.

The bear attack is really the highlight of the movie. Apparently no CGI was involved, making it even more impressive. Although you do sort of wonder what a bear and her cubs were doing, still foraging so late in the season. Nearby snow is already falling. Why aren’t they hibernating? Just more bad luck for Hugh, really, but the movie is kind of sloppy on credibility on a number of points, which didn’t bother me as much as those in Phoenix , and here flags the essentially mythic or symbolic status of the story. Although there was an historical character called Hugh Glass associated with this adventure, we leave history way behind on a fanatical revenge trip that favours a hyper, extravagant visual style and reminded me of computer video games more than anything else. It’s pitched at about that level, for that audience. From the moment we see arrows passing right through human torsos or two or three inches into solid tree trunks with the abrupt whoosh associated with martial arts movies, you know we are deep into Hollywood hyperbole. I mean, Indian bows? These things are maybe four feet long to be fired from a galloping horse – how are they ever going to generate the kind of velocity needed to transfix a person or plunge deep into a tree? A stone arrowhead could never go that far either. That’s not what they were made for. At best they were meant to wound or slow. Even a crossbow made from car suspension springs using lathed steel bolts could only achieve that kind of penetration from fairly close range, or so I’m told. The Indian arrows are supposed to be launched from a ridge, maybe 30 metres away, or else somehow from the trees above them, even more ridiculous since the trappers have been camping in the grove for some days, but somehow no one had noticed Indians sneaking up the trees with bows and arrows – not the easiest things to carry or wear when climbing trees in any case. The whole thing is just laughable Hollywood hokum – and this while the director, Mexican, Alejandro G. Iñárritu insisted on shooting ‘chronologically’ in the interests of authenticity for performances or the Director of Photography (also Mexican), Emmanuel Lubezki, insisted on using only ‘natural’ light. Natural light for what? Magic arrows and a forest full of foley artists?

I’m no expert on Native American languages, but having watched earlier movies to this genre, I was a little surprised to find that Glass launches into Pawnee when he encounters another Indian one evening, without at least accompanying it with their distinctive sign language. I mean ‘signing’ is what tribes are supposed to do when encountering someone they don’t recognise – even though, as I understand, significant differences existed in sign languages as well. But the initial raised hand for peace or truce I imagine was pretty much standard to any initial encounter. Later, when Glass helps a captive Ree squaw escape a camp of French trappers, he again slips into Pawnee unaccompanied by any signing. Now, while the Ree belong to the same language group as the Pawnee, differences would surely dictate, even as protocol, that signing accompany his urgent commands – in fact signing would surely have been more efficient in the circumstances! Later the Ree pursue Glass on horseback with rifles and get within yards of him but miraculously fail to halt or kill him, instead drive him off a precipice, still astride his horse. The shot, following the careening horse and rider off the cliff into pine trees many metres below, is particularly redolent of the spectacular points of view exploited in computer games. The fact that he survives takes on exactly the kind of empty stakes of a computer game – a matter of one more obstacle passed for a nominal score. When the Ree later track Glass to a freezing river bank, a little fortuitously, let’s say, only to see him plunge into the river to escape – their many bullets again fail to find their target – even though he is only yards from them.

It’s not so much that this string of near-misses is implausible, but that the message is implicitly a supernatural, irrational one. Nothing can stop him because his cause is supremely just. Glass’s drive for revenge takes on a kind of moral rage against the callous and venal Fitzgerald, for the military apparatus that supports and exploits his kind, for the intolerance and self-righteousness of a colonising society. These things carry very real echoes today, not just for Amerika. Glass is literally transformed by his experiences, becomes something of a force of nature himself, but in the end he is caught in no-man’s-land, betwixt and between cultures, without which there is only an inhospitable wilderness. Ironically, the production struggled to find suitable locations firstly in the historical region of Glass’s exploits, then in Canada, because of global warming, with adequate snow cover. The film was eventually completed in Southern Argentina. For most of the movie Lenny can only grimace and groan to express his suffering, since for long stretches there is obviously no dialogue as we follow his painful solitary journey. All the same, so far it has earned him a Golden Globe award for best actor. But one suspects there is a large sympathy vote for the sheer physical ordeal of wading in and out of frozen rivers, eating raw fish or buffalo and being stomped on by a bear, even if only men in a bear suit or a well-trained bear. It was surely unbearable! And sitting through the entire 156 minutes of this one was just that. :evil: