What is The Revenant? A rip-roaring revenge adventure? A tale of survival? Or, perhaps a narrative on the firm bond between father and son. If I had to choose, I would say the very last one. The Revenant is about the power of love. (Don't worry, dudes, there's plenty of blood and guts that will leave you agape.)
This film does have revenge; it does show surviving in below zero temperature while bleeding out, but it boils down to hanging onto hope because of that electrifying jolt of love to keep going. Adam Sandler's Barry Egan perfectly sums it up in Paul Thomas Anderson's wacky and wonderful Punch-Drunk Love: "I have a love in my life, and it makes me stronger than anything you can imagine." I could end this review now with that quote. But I like to talk, so I'm going to keep going. Stay with me.
The Revenant is set around the 1820s in fur trading expedition lead by Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio, in his best performance to date). With him is his half-Indian son Hawk, John Fitzgerald (a hardly recognizable Tom Hardy), Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), Bridger (Will Poulter, whose career is growing fast and furious), and a bunch of others who get slaughtered in grisly, violent ways. Disclaimer: The Revenant is extraordinarily violent and fiercely intense. It's necessary because everyone during the time period it's set: whites, blacks, Indians, and anyone you crossed paths with, were savages, and this movie shows how brutal some will go to survive. It's nasty, but blood is not spilled throughout the 156 minutes running time, so there are plenty of scenes just to stare at in pure amazement.
After a brief but vicious battle (enriched with photography by Children of Men, Gravity, and Birdman's maestro Emmanuel Lubezki,) Glass and his crew are in a temporary safe zone, and he's on the hunt for more fur. The name of the game here is more fur, more money for their team when they get back home. This, dear reader, is when the shit hits the fan. As he's hunting, Glass sees a few cubs in shooting range. He points, and as he's about to fire, he hears a growl strong enough to make the hairs on your neck stand up and turns around to see one of the biggest grizzly bears ever put on screen and perhaps real life, which charges and attacks him. The camera doesn't cut once as we watch this beast tear Glass to shreds. This is the most slack-jawing part of the movie and must be seen on the big screen. Glass does make it out alive, barely, and you must see how yourself. This man is a warrior. Mentally and physically.
I know it's been pirated, but the effect of this scene is not the same on some shitty compressed version. I have a DVD screener of the film because I'm a voter, but I have still gone to the theater again to see it because this movie is so mesmerizing on a giant screen and in the quality it is supposed to be seen in.
Glass' team finds him, and they carry him as long and far as they can. After deciding Glass is going to eventually bleed out and die, Captain Andrew Henry pays three people to stay with him until his last breath and give him a proper burial. One of those who stay back is Fitzgerald. This is a man who was once half-scalped and it's clear his brain was knocked loose in the process. He's not all there, but he's alive and functions enough to join a team and hunt.
Warning: Slight Spoilers Ahead. If You've Seen The Trailer, You Know What Happens. If you Have Not, Come Back And Read After Seeing The Film.
When the rest of the team leave, Fitzgerald throws a wrench in the promised plans and Glass is abandoned. He's alone and left with just a water canteen from Bridger that will come in handy later in the film.
The majority of the film is Glass' survival, but he hangs on through memories of the only two important people he had and lost (and let's be honest, luck and his infinite survival skills). His memories are what keep him fighting to stay alive.
This movie is based on real events, but I can't imagine the real Hugh Glass going through everything Leo's version does. Both the film and the story it's based on are jaw dropping. However, with precise directing from Alejandro González Iñárritu, striking photography from Lubezki, a beautiful score from Ryûichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai, and Bryce Dessner, and one hell of a hypnotizing performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, who really goes for it in this film and shows he's will to get his hands dirty and isn't the pretty boy the media has made him out to be. All of this together makes The Revenant the most transcending film you'll see in theaters in perhaps your whole life. It's that great.