Only a few films have portrayed pain in a way that is both astonishingly beautiful and hardly possible to look at. ‘21 Grams’ and ‘Babel’ are two examples that come to mind, and ‘The Revenant’ can now easily be added to that list. Trust me when I say this – there is absolutely no coincidence that these three movie were all made by the same person.
Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s latest film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, an explorer left to die by his hunting partners after being viciously attacked by a grizzly bear in the American wilderness during the 1820’s. DiCaprio is joined by Domhnall Gleeson as Captain Andrew Henry, the leader of the hunting expedition, and Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, a member of the crew assigned by the Captain to take care of Glass while the expedition moves ahead; a decision which unwittingly puts both Glass and his native son at the mercy of Fitzgerald’s unremitting cruelty.
From that point on, one of the most interesting yet near unbearable journeys seen in cinema in recent years begins to take shape, one that thrusts us into Glass’ suffering, sorrow and will for revenge, magnified by the human spirit of survival.
Aided by a remarkable and painfully physical performance from DiCaprio, as well as the unforgettably magnificent cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki (‘Children of Men, ‘Gravity’), Iñarritu aims towards a highly realistic perspective once again, never shying away from explicitness and long takes that succeed in creating an immersive experience like no other. He goes back to that crude and gritty vibe of some of his early films like ‘Amores Perros’ and ‘21 Grams’, adding this time that grandiose vision and aesthetic he showed in ‘Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’.
If analysed carefully, all of Iñarritu’s films focus on the careful exploration of human nature, and ‘The Revenant’ is no exception. He does it this time by exposing that nature against the wild and harsh environments of the natural world. Survival is central to Glass’ journey, yet Iñarritu also manages to make ‘The Revenant’ a very particular representation of humanity and the world that surrounds it. With the incredible craftsmanship of Lubezki behind every shot, the Mexican director achieves precisely what he thinks cinema should always set out to achieve – pure cinematographic realism.
It is that realistic aspect of the film, nevertheless, that makes the whole experience almost impossible to endure. In a peculiar way, the problems of Iñarritu’s film more or less go back to the existential question of whether cinema is exclusively a means of entertainment, or if it’s also a device to showcase stories of all types.
Glass’ path towards redemption is far, far from easy. It involves a lot of pain, explicitly showed to us by Iñarritu, and it can go as far as to put into question how much realism is enough realism. Seeing Glass fighting against that bear all in one continuous take is, in a very weird way, both incredible to look at and sublimely harsh to assimilate. The key matter about this visual ‘conflict’ is that it is not exclusive for that scene and remains almost continuously throughout the film.
Ultimately, while Iñarritu designs a unique and very human exploration of the senses, Lubezki delights us with yet another set of Oscar-worthy visuals and DiCaprio pushes his talents to the max, ‘The Revenant’ is a film that will still fail to appeal to all sorts of audiences. Glass’ redemption, although masterfully conveyed, is just as beautiful as it is painful, making Iñarritu’s newest addition to his filmography a rare, thrilling and somehow wonderful creation.