Cecile Pin reviews Alejandro González Iñárritu’s much awaited film
Iñárritu’s fourth film Biutiful begins with a snow-covered and empty forest, a sort of limbo between death and heaven.
A similar landscape dominates The Revenant, Iñárritu’s much awaited film, coming after the triumph of 2014’s Birdman. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as fur trapper Hugh Glass who finds himself badly injured after being mauled by a bear. This harrowing encounter leads to him being robbed and abandoned by his men and having to survive in the freezing wilderness. Leading the rest of the band are Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter, who both get to show the depth of their acting talents through supporting but complex, conflicted characters. Tom Hardy portrays the villainous Fitzgerald, who Glass wants to retaliate against. Although there’s no doubt Hardy shines in his role, I have to say I couldn’t understand about ninety per cent of what he was saying due to his very strong and slightly unnecessary Southern accent. I thought it might’ve just been me, but when I turned to my friend, whose first language is English, to see if he was struggling as well, he admitted he was in the same situation as me.
However, the real antagonist of the film is not Fitzgerald but nature itself –about two hours of the film consist of Leo doing some hard-core surviving. This includes surviving on eating herb grass and, much worse, sleeping inside the carcass of a horse. At the core of the Revenant is a man v. nature story, similar to Jack London’s short story To Build a Fire. I was also reminded of Dead Man (1995), directed by Jim Jarmusch. Both films include slight psychedelic elements as well as the similar plotline of a gravely injured white man having to survive in the wild and getting some help from a similarly lonely indigenous man.
There is no doubt that The Revenant is a great film. One of its highlights is Emmanuel Lubezki’s gorgeous cinematography; his beautiful shots of the wild serve as a contrast to the danger it holds and the harm it causes to the protagonist. The film comes after a year that I have personally found a bit disappointing movie-wise, and especially after my even bigger disappointment that Carol had not been nominated at the Oscars for best picture. The casting must also be noted, and has me thinking that this might finally be Leo’s year regarding the all-important golden statue. His commitment to his role is the same his character has to surviving: intense and enduring, brute and raw at some times. These elements, orchestrated by Iñárritu’s confident direction, makes for a powerful film that manages to stay thrilling despite its quite simple storyline. It succeeds in displaying Glass’s struggles and anger, all the while not overwhelmingly focusing on these elements.
To go back to Biutiful, this notion of a snowy wilderness as Iñárritu’s choice of a setting for a sort of purgatory gives another, welcomed eerie dimension to the film. It gives us a slightly uneasy feeling that Glass may or may not have survived the bear’s attack, and that his whole survival and revenge quest might have been carried out as some sort of final mission before entering the other life. As a Dead Man, if you will .
Of course, this is just my perspective. But this space for multiple interpretations, which has become a sort of trademark for Iñárritu, only emphasises the greatness of The Revenant. In the end, it is a story about survival, and I have no doubt that the film itself will survive the test of time.