In The Revenant, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son are scouts for a team of fur trappings in the late nineteenth Century. After a chance encounter with a bear, Glass is left bloodied and (almost) dead. As the team struggles to carry him along, they decide to leave him until he passes on. However, after a rogue member of his team causes Glass an even greater personal tragedy, he fights to survive in the harshest of winter conditions in order to exact his revenge.
Shot by uber-cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in the wilds of Canada in natural light, The Revenant is certainly beautiful to see. It’s grey-blue landscapes are simply striking in their scope, drawing us into the film without the use of 3D trickery. Furthermore, DiCaprio’s performance is arguably the best of his career and (in my humble opinion) is much deserved of that elusive Best Actor award.
So, it must deserve Best Picture, right?
While the film has something to say, frankly I don’t believe that it’s worthy of the hype. Hardy has received praise for his portrayal of Fitzgerald but I don’t feel that his character becomes anything particularly new from the archetype. In addition, as DiCaprio wanders in the desert, there are times where I feel the script does as well.
Further leaving me cold was the film’s message. In his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, DiCaprio shared his award with the Indigenous Peoples of the world, arguing that it’s “time we recognized their history”. I couldn’t agree more with this statement. However, I don’t think that The Revenant necessarily accomplishes this in any particularly special way. In fact, rather than elevating native peoples, The Revenant actually equates them with the beastliness of the various fur trappers on a number of occasions. As a result, The Revenant creates an overall sense of animal-like nature of humanity. Yes, there are things that man does that one could consider noble (love of family or compassion, for instance); however, in the end, humanity is portrayed as vicious and cruel, a product of the elements.
The one bright hope within the film is the fact that, throughout his quest, Glass appears to receive strength from a power greater than himself. While much has been made of his ‘one-ness with nature’, his flashbacks and spiritual encounters point to an Influence from outside. He lives because he was allowed to live. He has purpose because he’s been shown there’s more to live for. What’s more, Glass even appears conscious of this when, at the end of the film, his angry heart recognizes that ultimately “revenge is in God’s hands”.
Despite this spiritual hope, however, the film’s conclusion still finds a man who is left with nothing. While his journey has come to an end, his life goes on—and his final glare to the camera suggests that he’s not sure why.
To bring the Oscar home for Best Picture, I simply don’t think that’s enough.