The Revenant: Proof That It Really Could Always Be Worse

Revenant - IMDBThere is beauty in misery. For the most part, this sums of Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s latest film, The Revenant, which basically follows a colonial version of Job through every horror one can imagine. Beautiful, engaging but also exhausting and ultimately over-the-top.

Premise: A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival in pursuit of revenge. Result: A dark, emotional draining crucible of horror and madness that is both beautiful and traumatic.

Iñárritu‘s newest film forgoes much of the brilliant, often esoteric meta-tale of one man’s personal woes in favor of a far more direct route. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his “half-breed” Native American son are trackers who appear to be the only hope of a band of American fur traders out in the Northern Wilderness who have just been trounced in one of the most jarring camp raids to hit audiences in recent memory. Observers will be shaken by the powerful and painful direction and will welcome the subsequent low-burn tension that pits Glass against John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who has declared his opposition to Glass’s recommended plan in spite of Captain Andrew Henry’s (Domhnall Gleeson) decision to side with Glass.

But it is not long before Glass begins his own journey into hell. And the gates of hell are guarded by a raging grizzly that mauls him monstrously as audiences are forced to witness the carnage. But such is Innaratu’s strategy, to force observers into a sense of perpetual discomfort: first, through maddening attention to detail of both the squalor these people lived in but also the virtually ridiculous levels of tragedy that befall Glass; next through a languid pacing that forces audiences to endure misery in a state of suspended purgatory.

The film is bleak in a manner most observers may detest – it is despair manifested as a journey with characters who are both repugnant in their own unique manners; one drawn to the dark in a relenting sense of self-preservation and the other to an equally un-relenting, hollowing sense of vengeance. Both are fascinating in their own rights, as each man is both master of his fortune and completely subject to the arbitrary wills of the cruel world around them.

Just how we feel

Just how we feel

After a time, the romance wears off and observers are confronted with their own reality: continue to stare into the void or look away. This decision is helped not only by the game of depression-chicken Innaratu is playing but by some of his choices. The film is paralyzingly slow which works well for the most part but eventually exhausts. Further, unlike God and Job, Innaratu can’t seem to cut our lead a break – at one point he jumps off a cliff and staves of freezing by transforming his horse into an Earth Tauntaun. It is a testament to how far he has gone when a minor avalanche illicit growns – enough is enough already!

But the story is nevertheless powerful and brilliantly sculpted. The cinematography is exquisite and the depth of darkness that consumes our leads is enough to grant it entry into the annals of horror.

The acting in the film dances between perfect and preposterous. It is hard to tell whether the performances that DiCaprio and Hardy offer are proportional to the absurd demands of the film or a chomping of the scenery with no other food source in sight. Or perhaps it is both and neither. Gleeson, for his part, is more balanced but even he is sometimes pulled into the vortex of too much-never enough-just right-oh-my-god-I’m-so-tired.

In the end, The Revanant is a journey for all involved. Its beauty and commitment to tell the full tale with cringe-inducing detail allow observers to understand the terms “harrowing” and “life-altering” in all new ways. It is Life of Pi come alive in grim, unwelcomed detail.

Yet there is also a point where it is hard to stay on course, to wish to take part in a tale with characters for whom we no longer feel connection under circumstances that border the absurd. Yet perhaps that is the true nature of this film, to force audiences to experience the very real ridiculous and sublime.

Rating: 7- A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!

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