Review: THE REVENANT – Man vs Nature (of Man)

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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).

METAPHORS 101: The American Flag Atop A Mountain Of Stolen Souls

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.

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* A NOTE ON THE / RATING SYSTEM (PINK = HALF) *
///// WORTH BUYING –  ///// THEATER –  ///// RENTAL –  ///// NETFLIX –  ///// SLIP ON THROUGH


SLIP-Revenant

What do you think?

Do you enjoy more interpretive cinema?

Or does imagery and themes annoy you?

Leave a comment.

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10 thoughts on “Review: THE REVENANT – Man vs Nature (of Man)

  1. Oh man, so much to discuss. I have to say I enjoy symbolism in films but it can be done well and it can be done poorly. Just because you’re being symbolic doesn’t mean you’re being deep and profound. Sometimes it means you’re being boring and pretentious. I liked The Revenant. Sometimes the symbolism was interesting, beautiful and thought provoking. Other times it felt too long and obvious. To be honest I was distracted somewhat in the screening I attended so I’m holding off too much of an opinion until I see it again but I felt strongly that I liked it and it was a great movie. There’s been some interesting discussions about what the ending means too. I find it interesting that Glass is given a child in this which is not true to real life but gives the film a lot of its heart. Great review as always Dan. Particularly your points about lighting, Tom Hardy and Leo as a prehistoric man. Interesting you should mention Terence Malick since his montages of symbolism are not to everyone’s tastes and I adored Tree of Life which Roger Ebert championed but was not universally celebrated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great comments, Lloyd! I definitely feel the Mallick vibes here. Tree of Life was my favourite film that year. At my screening of Revenant, a lot of folks laughed at the symbolic moments. It’s not for everyone. Movies are entertainment, as well as an artform. I don’t feel the film forced its message on you, and left those images open for interpretation. Like you said, some of them were more obvious moments that begged us to think, and may be emphasized too hard. Thanks for checking out the review. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review Dan. I was blown away by this. So beautiful and just a stunning piece of cinema. First Birdman and now this, Inarritu is quickly becoming my favorite filmmaker. And DiCaprio and Hardy were just absolutely phenomenal in this

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  3. I loved this film. I loved the way it was filmed, the starkness of it all. Symbolism and metaphors I eat up. I am so tired of in insipid films with no undercurrents, nothing beneath the surface. For a film to be a truly great film, it has to have layers (kind of like a really exceptional perfume – there must not be one scent, but layers of fragrances that appear later on in the day). That is kind of the way I view this film, it stays with you, and different aspects of it, keep appearing in later on.

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  4. I’m scared about the violence in this film.
    I didn’t know what was it about until I read this. I get how angry he was when left behind but I also get why the other ones left him.
    So, maybe… 🙂
    And I forgot to mention, I liked the bullets on the previous post 🙂

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  5. Dan, excellent review! We’ve talked and I know we share the love for this. I do like your explanation of how natural lighting creates artistic choices “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”. Seems obvious, but I didn’t get it before you mentioned it. Thanks for that 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review dude, I love the rumination on symbolism and all that. The Revenant is certainly symbolic. I really liked this idea here: “What we thought was a tale of man versus nature, is really a tale of man versus the nature of man.” — that’s really quite good because it’s easy to look at Hardy’s John Fitzgerald as just a plain old, nasty sumbitch. But really he represents some of mankind’s worst tendencies. Even in these stark, primitive times all he can think about is getting more money. He makes it clear he’s not in this mission for the people or the experience. He is just greedy and simple like that. Hugh Glass on the other hand is a good, decent man. And a loving father. The best part of man.

    The movie just rocks. I can totally see the hype getting to the point where it is causing some disdain from people who didn’t take as much from it, though. I totally see that and empathize with them. That was kind of me when Guardians of the Galaxy came out haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Rob. I don’t think it’s you 😉 This movies isn’t for everyone. I know people leaving the theatre were saying stuff like, “What was That?” or “I don’t get it.” However, I don’t think you need to dig on themes or symbolism to enjoy it.

      I know when I was talking after the film after the show, and trying to decipher the meanings, everyone else thought I was reading too much into it (which is fair enough, as I always try and interpret the more poetic angles of movies), saying it’s just about how hard is to survive (Mother Nature in itself). I think that a director like Innaritu who is willing to spend so much time to light a film the way he envisions, also very particularly decides each image and symbol on purpose. Even Gravity had lots of metaphors and symbolism.

      Let’s hope the entertainment and excitement of survival was good enough for you though. I couldn’t get enough of THE REVENANT. I still want to see it again! The only films I saw twice this year are Ex Machina, Star Wars, Straight Outta Compton, and this one. I normally don’t see movies twice any more because I’d rather spend time with new content, but sometimes I can’t shake a film and want to experience it again.

      For me, The Revenant is the best film of the year! I’d love to discuss more specifically what I enjoyed and what you enjoyed. I am even more curious about what didn’t work for you.

      Liked by 1 person

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