The Revenant (Innaritu, 2015)


Like Birdman before it, this beautifully shot and highly sensationalized film captivates in the moment but disappears into soulless immemory shortly after the curtains close. With each feature film, Innaritu has become more arrogant and mean-spirited, with little love for his characters and even less on screen. For what may appear a humanist tale, the Revenant is far from being humanist. It is Innaritu’s latent sadism become manifest as a perverse, horror-bordering, manipulation of the ego. The men, both white and native, are transformed into blood-lusting savages, an expression of Innaritu’s perverse way of seeing life. The Revenant is not about life or about revenge. It is anti-life and it is anti-human.

Parading as the ‘heart’ of the film, the son’s death is a macguffin and emotional exploitation, tenuously providing the inspiration of Glass’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) vengeful will to survive. The idea is hollow and not without poetic contortions; beginning with the opening scene and followed by a few flashbacks, all of which employ the words “I will not leave your side’. Besides this are the innocuous memories of his presumably dead lover standing by a tree. This is all rather contrived and affectatious. What it allows is for Innaritu to take the film to viewer-shocking depths: a CGI bear mauling Leonardo DiCaprio, a native grotesquely eating the bloodied flesh of a murdered animal, Glass’ entrance into the carcass of a dead horse for insulation. All incredibly captivating, gaze-stealing, but empty. It is the pornography of violence in the guise of ‘art’.

In spite of Lubezki’s masterful cinematography, which is seemingly ever more inspired and confident since his work with Terrence Malick, The Revenant is nothing close to an ‘art-film’. The linear narrative bears no episodic sequence; its chapters are elliptically separated only by Lubezki’s brief tableau’s of nature, which are altogether irrelevant besides forming a poetic tone and sense of mystical significance which is entirely undermined by Innaritu’s goal of what he describes as the ‘super-real’. The ‘super-real’ in this context is a downright insensitive and perverse manipulation of reality through the transformation of humans into savages, which never yields to the beauty of Lubezki’s spontaneous and graceful camera.

By far the closest thing to a notable narrative element is the use of Bridger’s (Will Poulter) canteen, upon which he has scribbled a meaningless but visually palpable spiral. This is the one and only physical motif within the film and yet another simple macguffin, used to help the film’s narration form seeming continuity. Bridger drops the canteen after being scolded by Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) for the noise he’s making. The camera glides into an affecting close-up of the spiral he has drawn with a rock. It becomes obvious Innaritu’s intention here. Like with all aspects of the narrative, the use of this canteen as a story device is not subtle, but another way in which Innaritu’s controlled structure appears lifeless and egotistic. The canteen appears next on Glass’ buried-alive body. Why Bridger gives up his canteen is nonsensical considering he has just conceded to Fitzgerald’s insistence that Glass is good as dead, but it must happen in order for Glass to later drop the canteen at a French army camp, only to have it picked up by a French scavenger who loses his way and thereby arrives at the American camp with said canteen. Its appearance becomes known to Bridger who asserts it must be Hawk’s (Forrest Goodluck), and a few moments later the troupe anti-climatically find Glass seemingly steps away from their camp. If you kept your watch on this canteen and spiral, Innaritu wishes to give you a pat on the back.

Glass, the eponymous revenant himself, is unjustifiably framed as a hero, cinematically and narratively glorified for his actions, especially since he supposedly ‘leaves revenge to God’ when he drops a near-dead Fitzgerald into a pool of icy water. And so the film comes to its ill-fitting closure, with the natives showing quiet respect for Glass, the one white man who is accepted by the beastly natives. He is supposedly the only man of virtue amongst the tyranny on both sides of unrest. The natives ride past his injured body as Glass looks on with an empty soul, having lost his son and now his will to survive. And so the story just sort of ends.

I hate to say that I’m growing dislike for the director responsible for the great trilogy of films 21 Grams, Amores Perros, and Babel. His affectations and egoism has grown to almost Tarantino-like obnoxiousness, and is only redeemed by his use of some of the best cast and crew members in the industry. Though I will be giving the film a rather low rating, there is no denying the virtuosity of Lubezki’s photography or the Oscar worthy performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. I just sort of wish he didn’t use his personnel in vain.

60/100 – Decent.

2.5 star


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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