As A Metaphor For Depression, The Revenant Succeeds. Otherwise, It’s Maybe Too Uncomfortable.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
Writers: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mark Smith, based in part on the novel by Michael Punke.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Forrest Goodluck.
There are some movies that are meant to be seen only sporadically — “Schindlers,” I like to call them, after Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama, Schindler’s List.
These are the types of films that, no matter how well they’re made, are only worth watching once every few years at most. Anything past that is just overkill; the themes of these films are too heavy and their content is too intense, making individual viewings (let alone repeated ones) rather draining efforts.
The newest film from acclaimed director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Biutiful, Birdman) , The Revenant fits squarely into this category. Armed with a badass cast full of masculine dudes including Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, and based on the novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant follows the trials of DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who likes to bring his son along during dangerous missions. And there is indeed plenty of danger behind every turn here.
As the scout for his hunting party — a crew that includes Captain Andrew Henry (Domhall Gleeson), John Fitzgerald (Hardy), Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) among its ranks — Glass must contend with nature and man alike. Yes, as publicized, there are angry bears. But there are also treacherous mountainscapes to contend with. Worse, there are bloodthirsty natives intent on doing all they can to push back this and any other crew invading on its land’s advances. Worst of all, though, there is greed within the party’s own ranks.
The majority of the movie’s 156-minute run follows Glass as he fights all of the above elements after having been left for dead by the shady Fitzgerald in the wake of a brutal bear mauling. Total badass that he is, though, Glass clings onto life, endures the impossible and embarks on a vengeful mission back to camp.
If nothing else, The Revenant is a wonderful reminder of what an amazing actor DiCaprio is. Of course, the supporting cast is also strong — Hardy is effective as a opportunistic sleaze and Gleeson is on pitch as a noble straight-shooter — but this is DiCaprio’s show through and through. The scenes of him right after the bear attack are some of the most physical of his career. You will gasp and you might even turn away from the screen. There’s just some truly insane stuff going down in this movie. It is all hyper-manly, indeed. But, more than that, it will drop jaws.
It certainly took a lot of effort. That, we know for sure: This movie’s production is now infamous in its difficulty; Iñárritu wanted to shoot exclusively on location and in natural light, which meant enduring terrible weather and only being able to get a couple of hours of shooting time each day. DiCaprio, we also know, ate raw meat for some of this film’s scenes, in addition to performing most of his own stunts. But does all that effort amount to anything?
While it feels like a relatively simple movie, The Revenant in a rather twisted way works as a metaphor for the difficulty of living through depression. Some days, it can feel like you’ve been mauled by a bear, and it’s hard to get up to face the day and deal with people and the outside world. Then, just when you feel like you’re finally catching a break and starting to feel better, you fall off the metaphorical cliff and need to gut a metaphorical horse in order to survive. In that regard, this film is very purposefully crafted to make you feel as exhausted as possible.
This is indeed a relentless film. The constant paranoia that Glass experiences is unnerving. If he ever manages to find some sort of refuge or sustenance or even relief from the elements, it is often short-lived. For anyone that lives with depression or anxiety, this film will come off as insanely relatable — perhaps too much so.
Also arguably too much? Iñárritu’s almost cliche one-takes, which are taken to another level here. The cinematography is, of course, gorgeous; cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s efforts toward capturing the majestic beauty of the snow-covered mountains of the American West make The Revenant one of the most beautiful movies in recent memory. But that effort is undercut some by the exhausting subject matter and daunting length, which don’t do the film any favors.
If Iñárritu goal was to create an intense, borderline uncomfortable watch — and it sure seems that this is the case — then he has succeeded.
But, almost actively so, The Revenant is not for everyone. Not by any means.