Friday, January 22, 2016

The Revenant: Monday, January 18 2016

The Revenant is adapted from the Michael Punke novel The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. Set in 1823, in Montana and South Dakota, it is based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a frontiersman and fur trapper. It's called an American frontier revenge film. Revenant is the name given to a person who has, especially supposed to have, returned from the dead. Glass was left for dead, and this is the story of his returning to wreak revenge on his betrayer.

Written and directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, this magnificent piece illustrates his genius. It is no surprise that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy were prepared to suffer the incredible discomforts of making this film with Inarritu. His sure hand has crafted a masterpiece. In a class by itself, it lives in the fields of mythology. It brought to mind the Odyssey by Homer, and the long, difficult journey made by Odysseus after the end of the Trojan war, to return home to Ithaca. The Revenant is a classic, created by the Salvador Dali of film directors.

The cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, and his collaboration with Inarritu, are a large part of The Revenant. Lubezki has captured visually the feeling of what Inarritu was trying to achieve. He has also caught the beautiful magnificence of the Land of the West of North America.

Add in Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, and all the other actors who played so well, and I found that here is an unforgettable film. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I first saw it, and I am going back to see it again. This time I want to listen to the music. Ryuichi Sakamoto composed most of the score, and it must blend in well with the film because I don't remember hearing it.

Set in the mythological American frontier country, Revenant is brutally realistic. The film doesn't romanticize or glamourize what life was like in that time or place. As Thomas Hobbs said in his Leviathan, life without civilization is, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short", with every man against every other man. The first scenes of the attack by the aboriginals on the European trappers show just how very nasty that could be. The West wasn't won easily!

Every man is also against the forces of nature in his fight for survival, and Revenant makes that abundantly clear. No aboriginal people dressed in unbelievable pretty clothes: the American first peoples in this film are authentic. No white men dressed in the foppish finery of European gentlemen: all the dirt and wear and tear are highly visible. No civilized mores in any of these characters: they appear not far from the other primates in their evolution as they grunt at each other. Here is life in the raw; life at the primitive edges of existence; life struggling for survival. The theme of revenge has been lifted on to the plane of the basic needs of human beings. Food; water; shelter: no time for anything else that may take human life above that of brutes.

Having lived many years in the beautiful Canadian north, I shuddered when I saw how often DiCaprio and the others had to wade in the glacial waters of the rivers. Looking at DiCaprio's ungloved hands, and hatless state, as he crawled through the snow, I set aside belief, realizing that hypothermia would have finished him quickly in that environment. We were in the world of Art transcending reality. Glass' injuries after his interaction with the bear also were in that category. No ordinary man could have survived such an attack, especially when his wounds began festering. But Harry Glass was no ordinary human being, and revenge is a strong motivator.

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu is no ordinary film writer and director. It appears to me he is now finding his voice as an artist. I look forward to his future work.

The Revenant is not light entertainment. But, then, are the paintings of Salvador Dali?

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