“The Revenant” (2016)
NEW YORK, January 19, 2016 – I saw “The Revenant” last night. The movie has been the victim of its own hyped success. The famous bear scene was prolonged, but it wasn’t explicit. It was part of the film’s overall emphasis on the primordiality of nature. The film depicts nature in a stark, uncanny, mystical and almost reverent way. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his superb cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki make it clear that the worst violence is done by man. Man to man, man to animals and man to nature.
When seeing the movie, even hearing about it over the last several weeks, I always thought about how the Hugh Glass story had been filmed before.
Forty-five years ago, I sat in a theater in Pasadena, California and watched Man in the Wilderness (1971), directed by Richard C. Sarafian, starring Richard Harris playing Zachary Bass. When I got home from The Revenant, I watched the Harris movie again. The bear scene was much more explicit and bloody, but the rest of the movie wasn’t too violent. It was more about the man surviving his harrowing experience and making it back to camp.
I didn’t read Michael Punke’s 2002 novel. But there are several visual echoes of Sarafian’s film in Iñárritu’s film. The way Bass/Glass puts the flintlock shot in his mouth before feeding it to the barrel of his rifle. The way he feeds himself from the river and from a dead bison. The kindly relationship he has with a Native American in his hunting party. “The Revenant” is similar enough to be a remake.
For me, the two most notable things about The Revenant are the cinematography and the mythology. This film deserves 70 millimeter more than The Hateful Eight. If Emmanuel Lubezki hadn’t already won the Oscar for best cinematography the two previous years, he’d be a shoe-in this year. He might win it anyway.
About the mythology, the West has long been aware of itself as a self-conscious mythic creation. Historian Jon T. Coleman discusses how Glass’s experiences, through many retellings, became part of a founding national myth for white Americans. What they were doing was cruel and tough. They needed endurance and inspiration, and provided it for themselves.