This is this first film in a long time where a movie ended and I immediately watched it again. The only other time was with LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL back in high school. Yes. THE REVENANT is that good. While you may assume this was because of the action (like LEON way back when), but it’s actually because of the thematic elements and the pure visceral experience of survival.
THE REVENANT is relentless. It doesn’t budge. It doesn’t play fair. It’s exactly like its formidable subject matter: Mother Nature – unforgiving and unflinching. We follow the true story of fur trappers and their guide (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is attacked by a bear and left for dead. His “friends” leave him behind, so he sets out on a long quest for revenge. Simple, right? However, it’s the execution makes this film so marvelous.
DiCaprio gets a lot of the praise, especially with award season hype; however, the real star is the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki and the direction of Alejandro Innaritu. Much is made about the natural lighting, but more should be made about the camerawork and Innaritu’s expressive ability with themes and symbolism (ie: the bird & his wife, the hovering soul, the underwater faces, the mountain of buffalo skulls, the poetic narration, etc.).
Some of the audience may hear “natural lighting” and not fully understand what this equates. It’s not just the actual look of the scene (after all this was shot on digital, cinephiles), it’s the freedom that the lack of lighting gear allows. The camera can point up because there’s no lamps. Likewise, the director can turn the camera around during a sequence – and there will be no fill lighting in sight.
This freedom means we get a lot of extended takes where the camera can roam around, weaving in between its subjects and the action. The opening camp raid is a perfect example. Think of the striking image in the trailer when DiCaprio is on horseback and the camera is right alongside him, when he looks back the entire horizon is in view. The sun lights it all. With the digital medium the iris allows in more light, whereas shooting on film would have been impossible (ie: too dark).
Because of the astounding photography and more interpretive elements, many viewers may point to snobbery or a conceited filmmaker. This has always confused me. The DOP, Lubezki, is a familiar collaborator with Terrence Mallick (TREE OF LIFE). Being challenged is one of the greatest rewards a director (painter, musician, author, poet) can offer their audience; however, some viewers end up feeling inferior or a step behind because they don’t know what the imagery suggests.
I’m not sure how that makes the filmmaker conceited. After all, they are trusting the audience’s intelligence and urging them to participate (and reflect). It’s only conceit, if the director doesn’t account for the audience. It really seems like Innaritu tries to balance the best of both worlds: art and entertainment.
The secret is: nobody knows what those images mean (sometimes the director included). They are meant to suggest a feeling – something intangible that words can not explain, but moving images can provoke. THE REVENANT is full of these moments (that uncomfortable audiences laugh at). Accept the challenge, and find your own meaning.
This survival film is not hollow. That said, while the film has poetic imagery, it isn’t necessary to participate in deciphering themes to enjoy the spectacle. * We can get into interpretations in the comments, as this review will avoid spoilers.
At the heart of it THE REVENANT is an adventure. It is a simple revenge story with brutal consequences. It may seem like the torture of DiCaprio goes on forever, but that may be the point. At times, our primal hero even looks and acts like prehistoric man – a reminder of how much we have NOT evolved.
Tom Hardy steps into the role of the villain here. What we thought was a tale of man versus nature, is really a tale of man versus the nature of man. The film steadily offers reminders of how difficult it is to survive the elements. In contemporary society, we don’t even have to get our hands dirty. This stark contrast leaps out at you. The story constantly shows you how easy it is to die in the wilderness, and how much hope love can provide.
Further exploration about the story or cast may ruin a lot of the surprises that are in store. THE REVENANT is the perfect movie for all types of viewers. Part Western drama, part survival adventure, this film will entertain anyone… as long as they have a strong stomach.
Unflinching and uncompromising, THE REVENANT has one of the most brutal stories this past year. While some may feel condescension with thematic elements, they should slip by unnoticed (although my screenings had uncomfortable laughter during these emotional moments).
By the end, false revenge is replaced by acceptance, without getting too overtly religious. The overall impression is how one man overcame every obstacle thrown at him because of love. This is the most violent romance of the year.
* A NOTE ON THE / RATING SYSTEM (PINK = HALF) *
///// WORTH BUYING – ///// THEATER – ///// RENTAL – ///// NETFLIX – ///// SLIP ON THROUGH
What do you think?
Do you enjoy more interpretive cinema?
Or does imagery and themes annoy you?
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