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Film Review: The Revenant (2015)


Amongst seemingly untouched snowy forests and clear blue rivers we arrive at the setting of the Revenant, a relatively unsettled 19th century Montana and South Dakota. It is a story of pursuing justice, opening with a camp of American trappers attacked by Arikara Native Americans searching for a lost member of their people. We see the trappers retreat into the wilderness where the qualities of mankind are tested in their attempt to survive there.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy take centre stage in this brutal tale of endurance and revenge in a world teeming with the repercussions of the expanding American frontier, we see the continuously desperate approaches of surviving in it. Perhaps most terrifying to witness is some of the philosophy that survival has instilled in some, most particularly with Hardy’s character, the dark and ever conniving character John Fitzgerald. We see many qualities of humanity, loyalty, cooperation and honesty lambasted as hindrances to the survival of men. For a long period of the film this is seemingly reinforced when compared to the relentlessly bleak situations DiCaprio’s character Hugh Glass has to endure. However, what we are able to see in fact is how hollow Fitzgerald’s ways are, the survival of his trials in the wilderness by helping others sees Glass survive and secure justice in a world plagued by its absence with so many choosing an easier path like Fitzgerald’s.

The different philosophies of the main characters of Glass and Fitzgerald eventually come to be judged; Fitzgerald’s murder of Glass’s son and attempted murder of an injured Glass himself is justified in order to ensure the survival of Fitzgerald and his fellow trappers. We see a grand hunt ensue with Glass pursuing justice, in the process providing it to the Arikara and surviving with the generous help of a Pawnee man.
Alongside this the film, even before release, earned notoriety for the prevalence of the extreme and often unexpected violence it contains. This is without a doubt well-earned with Glass gaining his injuries being attacked by a grizzly bear in perhaps one of the most sickeningly gripping action sequences in film. However, as gripping as it is, the film deserves to be recognised more for perhaps its most interesting feature, which stems from as, the film’s title suggests, the presence of figures resembling revenants, a being who returns from death after a long absence amongst the cold and often hellish setting.

Perhaps most starkly this is seen with the pursuit of the Arikara, frequently described by the trappers as almost omnipresent in the wilderness and often appearing seemingly out of nowhere. They are a chilling presence throughout the film even when absent. At the same time their ongoing search for a missing Arikara, Powaqa sees them often repeating the same desperate words, when finding fresh tracks, that maybe it is her. It is a tragic yet terrifying procession to witness, all the more when they stand before Glass and Fitzgerald as spectral judges for the men who stand in the way of their march.
The Revenant is a hauntingly beautiful film, accompanied with undeniably captivating bloodiness. It is an outstanding portrayal of a dark chapter of humanity’s history.

Written by Alexander Beard

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