The Revenant Alejandro
Inarritu (USA 2015) Leonado Di Caprio;
Viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne, 19 Jan 2016;
No twists in the tale
The Revenant is a trial by ordeal movie, depending on your state of mind it’s a toss up whose ordeal it is: Di Caprio’s or the audience’s. (At 2 ½ hours it is a long movie) In some ways Revenant is reminiscent of films like Deliverance, though delivered with the punch of 21st century SFX.
Inarritu’s script is driven by a revenge motif and intercut not only with the contemporary inevitable, scape shots; but also with some Terrence Malick style soapy philosophy and magical realism that leavens the otherwise relentless grunting physicality. Inarritu’s style is immersive game driven scenario captured by long slow moving camera shots.
Inarritu’s scenario is pretty much a straight foreword forced march: no time line shenanagans. He starts at ‘a’ and makes his way without deviation to ‘b’. The script lacks wit, or any unexpected or dramatic twists. the USP is all in the SFX, which accompany us on our ordealistic journey. Of these the bear mauling, the event that determines and governs the nature of Glass’ ordeal is a striking and emphatically successful sequence of SFX. On the movie’s end roller there were credits for five different SFX companies, so the producers presumably used different companies for different kinds of effects: landscape, personal injury (arrows through the neck stuff) and the animal movement simulation.
The bear attack is a significant coup de cinematographie, but the events that it consequently triggers become more predictable and risk ‘effect fatigue’. We just go from one ordeal to another, ending with a reprise of a sequence used in Benedikt Erlingsson’s ‘Of horses and men (2014 Iceland)’ where a guy trapped in a blizzard slits open the belly of a horse, disembowels it and takes refuge in the hollow of the cadaver. An old trick apparently.
This succession of ordeal episodes is broken by land\snowscape shots. It seems impossible these days for directors to make a film without a nod to nature: Tarantino’s Hateful Eight comes painfully to mind. Innaritu’s edit allows his camera to spend much interstitial time gazing at scapes as if they might mean something.
Revenant’s ordeal sequentiation is also broken by flashbacks and sections of Terrence Malick style ‘magical realism.’ These of course do say something; confirming the power of relationships and the mystical faith conferred both by them and by religion and belief (however vague). Glass, as he lies perhaps believing he is dying, seeking the will to live, sees an image of a bird emerge from the breast of his murdered dead wife, as if to say: she will in spirit be with him as his guide. These sort of images are accompanied by bland iterations of middle America folk philosophy guised up as the sayings of Glass’ dead Pawnee wife: “…the wind cannot defeat a tree with strong roots.”
With its continual wiseacring the subtext of the plot is an affirmation of Middle American values: family, overcoming, male honour.
The film, is politically correct showing the savage uncivilised behaviour of the white man towards the natives; though there have been some cited objections by native peoples to the depiction of the Pawnee and Arikara peoples.
But Inarritu I think did miss a point in the final shot of the film when the Arikara pursuers on horse back file past Glass, who is all done in, lying on his back on the snowy river bank. Glass is spared death presumably because he rescued Powaqa the chief’s daughter. But there is an otherness to native people, an uncorrupted otherness, that Inarritu compromises as the horse party cross his line of sight. At this point Glass looks up at them. None of the Indians look at him but Powaqa returns his look. And this return of look seems like a moment of bad faith in the film, a dereliction of the pride of people whose land has been violated. This moment summarises the Revenant: it is a sell out. Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org