Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Revenant

minor spoilers ...

A few days ago I did something I never, ever do: saw a flick on its opening weekend.

Me and my buddy watched The Revenant this past Sunday. Normally I never see a film on its opening weekend; I’m just crowd-averse to the point of panic. I think I only agreed to go because I thought the movie had been out for weeks, since I’ve been seeing previews for it on the small screen since at least before Christmas.

Turns out the first showing was sold out while we were waiting at the back of the line of forty people or so. Truth be told, I’d been looking forward to seeing this flick, since at least before Christmas, so I suggested we wait an hour for the next showing. There just so happened to be a restaurant – with a bar – directly outside the movie theater, so we went there and downed a few brews. Which in no way influenced my feelings about the main event.

Now, since we were enjoying ourselves on the barstools, we kinda forgot the time and had to rush in to a heavily packed theater. We wound up sitting in the second row, so close that the screen towered above me like a Manhattan skyscraper. I literally – and I’m using that word literally literally – had to swivel my head 90 degrees to take in action from one side of the screen to the other. While in one vivid spatial sense it felt I was directly in the middle of the action, I also had the dismaying feeling I was missing a lot of the film.

The Revenant is one of the greatest advertisements for the advance of medicine and creature comforts we take for granted every hour and every day of our 21st century lives. Seriously. 1830s frontier life was B-R-U-T-A-L. Only the tough survived, and only the toughest of the tough even had a chance to thrive. Leonardo DiCaprio portrays one such man, Hugh Glass, apparently a real-life individual, a hero from frontier lore of whom I confess I know little about. We spend two and a half hours with Glass as he overcomes near-death to avenge the murder of his beloved son in the rugged, unforgiving, snow-covered frostlands of Montana.

Man, does Hugh takes a beating in this film. Mauled – not raped – by a grizzly. Stitched up sans anesthesia. Immobile and helpless in the dangerous wilderness, eyes only able to move and observe as his son is killed. Buried alive and left for dead. Crawling out the grave, he slowly, agonizingly, regains strength in the subzero winter weather. Eats raw fish, raw buffalo. Plunges over a waterfall in frigid waters, sees his rescuer murdered, dodges attacking Indians, plummets off a cliff onto a fir tree, sleeps inside horse carcass to avoid freezing to death, suffers a knife impaled through the palm of his hand.

Despite all this – I loved the movie!

For the film is not without its beauty. The cinematography was absolutely gorgeous – crystalline snow, icy rushing rivers, the wet forests, the wind-whipped plains. The outlands of Montana and South Dakota breathe a life its own, becoming a supporting character in the movie. You feel the cold and the damp and the frozen breeze in your bones, without actually freezing in your movie seat …

What a beautiful and dangerous world, this untamed, uncharted, unharnessed world of twenty decades back … I think, had I been born 200 years ago and raised into this sort of life, I would wholeheartedly be a mountain man. (And being raised into the life would be a non-negotiable, as right now I’d starve to death overnight or succumb to hypothermia if I simply locked myself out of my house in Suburbia, USA.)

The solitary life lived by men like Glass … how attractive and yet how frightening. How incomprehensibly and incredibly foreign to us of the 21st century. No internet, television, radio, no constant noise and hustle and bustle we’re constantly consistently exposed to. If I was to survive out in the mountains way back then, I’d need a Bible, a book of philosophy, and a Shakespearean play to survive those long, long hours when not on the move, after camp’s been made and food’s been cooked, and before the sun sets and the stars come out.

To return to the film, I’m not quite sure why it’s entitled The Revenant. Hugh does vividly dream and sometimes hallucinate about his dead Indian wife (and later, dead son), killed many years ago. Or is he the “revenant,” a ghost, the spirit of one who returns from the dead? I guess that’s what the filmmakers were intending, and it’s not a bad choice, if offbeat.

Leonardo seemed a bit flat, a bit one-dimensional in a way I find hard to explain. Yeah, he conveys pain and anguish, anger and command to extraordinary effect. Perhaps that’s what I mean – there is no joy or humor in Glass, even when sitting at camp early in the film. Perhaps because he’s only given a handful of lines to speak in the movie, and half of those are in Indian. And to my ears, for basically a big guy, his voice still sounds like a teenager’s and not a hardened mountain man.

His foil, Tom Hardy, pulls off menacing in a non-menacing way. He disappears into a role – is this the same man who played Bane a few years ago? He’s a talented, interesting actor who made what could have been a mustache-twisting villain a little more authentic, a little more natural. A man of competing motivations, cowardice and greed and self-interest overpowering a better nature, perhaps, buried deep down in order to survive the harsh conditions.

I really liked The Revenant. Can’t wait to see it again on a smaller screen, to see if indeed I did miss any detail painted upon that great big two-and-a-half hour canvas.

Grade: solid A.

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