The Revenant (Alejandro Iñárritu, 2015): ‘Not For Girls’ apparently..

I’ve wanted to see The Revenant ever since alleged film critic Jefferey Wells posted this damning tweet about how it’s not for women.

 He then went on to explain how it’s not necessarily not for girls, it’s just all the girls that he saw it with were cowering in their seats. Completely understandable then that he would make a sweeping statement about how this is such a #ladfilm, #dickflick or #manmovie. I should thank Jeffrey Wells, however, because if he hadn’t of posted that insightful tweet, I would never have gone to see The Revenant. Not that I’d ever watch the film again, but I’m glad I’ve watched just so that I can now now explain that the reason I didn’t enjoy it so much has nothing whatsoever to do with the violence/gore/brutality. In fact, those parts were probably the better aspects of the film. No, I just don’t think that The Revenant is a very good film.

Let’s get straight to it. Leo DiCaprio is a tracker guiding a group of white imperialists across the country so that they can sell some pelts to make money. He has a son who is half Native, whom he’s rather aggressive towards, and there’s this one guy in the group  (Tom Hardy) who seems to really hate him which may or may not be because of some longstanding issue between the two of them, but it’s never explained. Their group gets attacked by some very angry Indians (rightly so, I would say) and Leo, Tom, Domnhall Gleeson, the son and the other kid (and some others who are apparently unimportant) make off into the mountains. Leo then promptly gets mauled by a bear and after a bit of shoulder shrugging, Domnhall Gleeson decides to leave him with Tom Hardy, the kid and the son. Leo’s in pretty bad shape and it’s a really bad idea to leave him with the one guy who he basically got in a fight with before the whole bear scenario happened, but they still go ahead and do it. Predictably, Tom Hardy decides he’s going to off Leo but when Leo’s son tries to stop him, Tom Hardy kills the son. It’s worth mentioning at this point that these characters do have names but I just find the whole movie a lot more enjoyable to imagine it really is Leo & Tom having a good old bargy.

So the son is dead, the kid is goaded into leaving Leo for dead in the woods and this is kind of where the story begins. All of the above happens in the first twenty minutes and that is actually the most exciting bit to watch. There’s this cool tension between the kid (Will Poulter) and Tom Hardy’s character – sort of a masculinity in crisis thing going on. The bear mauling scene was hilarious and intense at the same time, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It just seemed to go on forever, but I got the sense that if you are being attacked by a bear – it might seem like forever. Anyway,  we’re twenty minutes in and Leo’s got his trajectory – getting revenge for the killing of his son.

Except, the next hour and a half could be summed up as Leo Dicaprio grunting, breathing oddly and waking up with icicles on his beard. It really is just an extended montage of Leonardo DiCaprio *doing shit* in the snow. He crawls around for a while, goes for a dip in some precarious looking rapids, falls into a tree, crawls inside his horse and eventually finds his way back to Domnhall Gleeson and his band of merry men. On his journey (physical or mental – I’m not entirely sure because neither the landscape nor his mental state seem to change very much) he does meet a two people. Both are native Americans, and both serve no purpose other than to spur dear Leo on to live another day. He first of all meets a man whose family have been killed by the Sioux. The man kindly shares some buffalo meat with Leo, then they ride along together for a few days (months, years? This film has no time frame!). The two of them catch snowflakes on their tongues. It’s a bit weird. The nice man puts the almost-dead Leo into a tipi made of tree branches to heal him and the next time we see the man he is strung-up, hanging dead from a tree. We aren’t given time to grieve because grief is not a part of this story. This man’s entire existence in this film is to give Leo the strength to keep going. The second character we meet is a woman who is (wait for it) being raped by another white man. Of course, the only living female character in this film is a rape victim. So, Leo does a *good thing* and saves her from getting raped by the nasty French man. In return, at the end of the film, she makes sure her mates don’t scalp Leo. Touche.

Instead of shifting perspectives on Native Americans, or having an Native American protagonist for once, we are still viewing the same colonialist stories through a white lens. The white man is spurred on by the actions of the natives – their spirituality guides him through the dark times. In The Revenant, we don’t want to see a story about the Native Americans whose culture this spirituality belongs to, we’d rather see a white man commandeer parts of that culture for his own purpose. Leo’s character frequently has ‘visions’ of his dead lover that tell him to carry on, aid his healing. So… she’s fridged before the movie starts to enable Leo to survive? Original. I’m absolutely baffled as to why Leonardo DiCaprio gave that speech about Native Americans at the Golden Globes. If he truly felt that way, then why did he work on a film that uses them as throwaway props continuously?

The thing is; The Revenant is technically an incredible film. The soundtrack (and sound design) is spot on, Iñárritu knows how to utilise the camera to make us feel completely involved in the world. The vast set pieces are truly remarkable: I’ve never seen the American West look so good. It’s a film designed for the senses: you can almost feel the cold when you watch it. In terms of story or character though? It’s boring. You could sleep through the middle section, wake up in time for the showdown and not miss a thing. Characters come and go in the blink of an eye, and are used as crutches for Leo’s character to lean upon when he needs them.

The Revenant is clearly an attempt to talk about human nature, survival and our relationship with nature. You would therefore expect some kind of development within our protagonist; some realisation that killing Tom Hardy isn’t going to make everything right. ‘Ah,’ you argue, ‘he doesn’t kill Tom, he leaves it in the hands of God…’ Except no, he does kill Tom Hardy. He looks up and see’s a group in Native Americans whom he knows will readily scalp Tom Hardy for him. So he actually absolves himself of the guilt, whilst knowing that if he floats Tom down the river, he will definitely end up dead.

To sum it up, it’s a ridiculous film and ultimately (for the running time) kind of boring. If watching Leonardo DiCaprio rolling around in the mud for 3 hours does it for you, then you’re going to love it. Pretty to look at it, but ultimately it’s a bit rubbish.

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