The Revenant is a chronicle of a heartless and brutal world where there is no soap. The events of the movie are terrifying and unsettling: a bear mauling, endless cold and hunger, loneliness, ceaseless murder by flintlock rifles and arrows and axes and spears and knives. These conditions are harrowing, to be sure, but not as fearsome as the legions of greasy, grubby, unwashed men who prowl the Colorado wilderness and the diseases they undoubtedly harbor. The grody realism of this wilderness epic is a constant reminder of how coddled we are in the modern age.
There is a great deal of realism in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s chronicle of the life of the semi-mythical Hugh Glass, a man played by Leonardo DiCaprio as being nearly as un-killable as Bruce Willis. Apparently, Hugh Glass, the real Hugh Glass, was an adventurer who traveled widely in the wild and did survive a bear mauling (presented in all of its violent savagery). (Dude, just stay down and stop aggravating that bear!) Beyond a rather vague appearance in some news items of the day, though, his life is an unpainted canvas, the sort of open space that a storyteller finds inviting. This director paints that canvas with blood and misery in such a way that we are constantly reminded of how much we romanticize our history.
Even though there are only a few survivors of the bloody attack on the hunting expedition that opens this tale, even they cannot seem to get along. Nor can the French, the Sioux, the Pawnee and the Americans make peace. It would seem that running around the Great Outdoors with guns is not the vision of independence and manly rapturous nature worship it sometimes appears. No, it is violent anarchy. Gang wars over turf are clearly not a new thing.
There are points where credulity is strained, yes, but there are other times which are handled masterfully. In one scene, a fierce battle involving two tough men stabbing and shooting each other in the deep, cold snow, one staggers away, chased at staggering breathless crawl by his mortal enemy. Each would kill the other, filled with hate, but the altitude and snow and miserable cold make this perhaps the most singularly exhausted pursuit in cinema history.
I won’t address the specifics of the plot, except to say that the events that befall Mr. Glass are so gut-wrenching that the two plus hours of runtime pass quickly. I spent a lot of my time writhing in my seat, because the suffering and danger were overwhelming. Believe me, this is an action adventure movie that is easily the equal of most, despite the lack of car chases and explosions. It is a dirty, agonizing survival story told without any sugar coating. It is also told without soap, clean clothes, or most other amenities.
I would have to give this particular entertainment a rating of five gaping wounds, or five wails of anguish. I recommend it highly. It will likely get an Oscar or two.