Film Focus: The Revenant (2015)

The Revenant is close to a winter fairytale set between life and death that honours the strength of the human spirit. It tells the story of a man who comes to a point where he has nothing left to lose, fear included, and documents his epic journey against the wilderness. It is the true story of Hugh Glass, a 19th century fur trapper, who encountered a close to death bear attack, then witnessed the murder of his son executed by one of his fellows, but eventually regained his power to walk all the way back and get his revenge.

The director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, of course, doesn’t simply want you to know the story. His intentions make it clear he wants you, the viewer, to suffer through it, to feel the pain of the protagonist, to know what it’s like to be all alone against the world. He savagely leads us into the wild – to one primitive world where either you kill, or you are killed; thus, turning the beginning of the movie into a fast-paced and enthralling but hazardous adventure. The use of a documentary style portrays Alejandro’s ambition to pay homage to nature and its day-to-day wonders. It is after all nature that is man’s best friend in the wilderness.

In an interview, Leonardo DiCaprio shared that The Revenant is definitely the most difficult filmmaking experience he’s ever faced. Despite the extreme conditions, however, he delivers a great performance and brings the intensity needed for the character to bear with all obstacles. Tom Hardy, on the other hand, stands out as the antihero of the movie till the very end, a role that he fills with all of his personality, but most of all, a role that fits him to the bone.

As the movie reaches its middle, the movie turns into a slow-paced attempt for survival. The scenes almost drag one after another, just like Leonardo is crawling on the snowy hills, whether to test your patience, or simply make you experience yet another aspect of the movie: the kind of hell the protagonist is going through.

The cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki successfully pulls off the long shots, which are quite the challenge for many directors, but the hard work results in a breathtaking cinematography. It is versatile (like an all-seeing eye, or the newly introduced 360 degrees video), turning the movie into a much more realistic account. There’s always so much depth within each shot and scene, so much more than first meets the eye, all of it wrapped in symbolism.

The deliberate use of sounds and images cannot be missed, or the recurring appearance of certain colours: blue (ice, water, sky) being contrasted by orange (fire, sun), and white representing purity (snow) being confronted by sinful red (blood).

The soundtrack further creates a haunting atmosphere – just like you are in the middle of the woods, dangers crawling in the darkness, shadows hiding behind the trees – by adding a great deal of natural noises such as the water falling, birds singing, or wind blowing through the leaves.

Now known as the film that brought Leo an Oscar, The Revenant deserves a spot among the greatest movies made, especially in the 21st century where focus often falls upon the magnitude of effects rather than the philosophical message or emotional experience embedded in the scenes.

Published in Strathclyde Telegraph, 2016.

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