And On The Eight Day, Alejandro Created Hell
Slowly we hear the swelling gentle drift of a stream, as if our heads gently bow towards the ice fresh water to sup it’s clear life force. The sounds of Gaia’s creations begin to playfully cascade and leap upon each other, rising ever higher, casting us into the fecund beating heart of nature.
And so begins our birth into the world clearly created whilst on holidays in the realm of Hades by auteur director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) in his unforgettable tour-de-force-of-nature The Revenant (2015). Returning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity) must have been on holidays with him at the time, who between them have decided that to maintain a brutal integrity to the ferocious tale will only shoot in the extremely sparse hours of natural light that the Canadian outback offers during the winter months. Clearly such brutality works, as if it’s a necessary ritual sacrifice to the alter of cinematic masterpieces.
Based loosely on the true survival exploits of a renowned tracker Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the novel of the same name by Michale Punke we have Glass having the sort of week that makes Rambo look like a bunch of Brownies (younger Girl Guides) playing tea party in a fort made of flowery blankets. I’m pretty sure the guy could perform open heart surgery on himself while cutting down a tree with his beard, wipes his backside with hedgehogs and uses fresh lava to exfoliate. Resilience is definitely his middle name.
It’s 1823 and Glass is a hired tracker for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, in a time where fur was the number one trading commodity in Europe, effectively skinning for gold out on the feral frontier. Glass has his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) with him as his Native Indian wife of the Pawnee tribe was murdered in an attack by soldiers on their camp years ago, the scars of which he sees daily in the eyes and facial burn scares of his young offspring, ripped from the nurturing bosom of his mum and cast into the vicious racist world of white Westerners. The Pawnee lived off and respected the land, whereas the white man lives only for the godless dollar, and has no respect for anything, especially life.
The expedition has come to the end of a successful campaign and are reading to depart after many months of hunting when they are attacked by the Arikara tribe, who it later transpires are looking for the chiefs daughter, herself kidnapped by the white man from their camp in the dark of night. It is during this attack that you know you are watching something that you have never seen before. So immersed are we through visuals and sounds that we almost become death itself dancing from figure to figure to bestow brutal immediate death upon them. Tagging from the last breath of one grubby soul sweeping up to relieve yet another of their pitiful existence. It is mesmerising in it’s beauty, brutality and efficiency of movement in a waltz of death.
The straggle of survivors escape downstream on a boat, who despite the Reeper staring them in the eyes, are besotted by the financial lure, grabbing some of the furs. It’s too dangerous to travel further down river so the decision is taken to return to the fortified camp over the treacherous mountains. Glass definitely wouldn’t have any luck on the lottery that week as he’s attacked by a bear protecting her young whilst out scouting. Once again you know you are watching something that you have never seen before as the sheer beauty, terror and vicious power of nature actually rips apart any order (and flesh) man may have believed he had on his surroundings. Nature always wins, your death will teach you this.
It’s only stubbornness and not the last flayed remnants of his skin that keeps Glass together. The weather is quickly turning foul, and his injuries could get everyone killed delaying the group. A reward for staying with him is offered by their Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) which is swiftly taken up by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass’ son and young Bridger (Will Poulter). Fitzgerald is the product of all that is bad in Western society, greed and soulless inhumanity, thus resulting in Glass being left for dead. Then the movie really starts.
Glass clearly kicked lumps out of Hades ferryman Cheron and crawls out of his grave guided with the eternal light of revenge. With seemingly endless final gasps he pushes himself forward like a Bear skinned Terminator. Fitzgerald must die before he dies.
I’m currently reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridan, which is singularly the most eloquent, brutal and savage book I’ve ever read. I can only say that my fortuitous timing in reading it prepared me for The Revenant. The film is utterly majestic in it’s scope, beauty, reverence to nature and all it’s celestial glow, only blotted by the stain and pollution that is Man. It is quite apparent that this is the beginning of Western ‘culture’ raping the natives and land of the Americas for money. Anything that gets in the way of this bloodlust will be slaughtered as if evolution was only a temporary glitch.
Adding to the unquestionable skill of the creators is the career defining levels that all the cast bring to the work. DeCaprio should win the Oscar that he has just been nominated for, as should Hardy. In both cases never has so much been said by saying so little, their eyes capturing every nuance of emotional turmoil. It’s as though the method acting research some actors do prior to filming has been skipped and they have just been dropped into an actual battle for survival. And all of this embraced with a haunting and beautiful soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto.
So much more could be written about The Revenant, but the only true way to experience it is to survive it. And of course see it on the biggest screen you can, as it is a genuine cinematic experience.
The Revenant is out now.