The Revenant (2015)

A gritty tale of Hugh Glass, a legendary figure among hunters, traders and trappers in early nineteenth century which won major awards at Oscars, Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards that year.

9/13/20236 min read

Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Revenant'
Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Revenant'

English, 156 minutes, 2015

Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Domhnall Gleeson

Awards: Winner, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Nominee, Best Picture & Best Supporting Actor, Academy (Oscar) Awards, 2016; Best Actor, Best Cinematography & David Lean Award for Direction, nominee Best Editing & Best Original Music, BAFTA Awards, 2016; Winner, Best Motion Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Nominee Best Original Score, Golden Globe Awards, 2016; The film won 90 Awards and more than 180 nominations in total.

Set in early 19th century, ‘The Revenant’ is based on a novel by the same name written by Michael Punke (American bureaucrat, author, attorney and former US ambassador to WTO, Geneva). The novel and the film describe American frontiersman, Hugh Glass’s adventures. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is guiding Captain Andrew Henry’s trapping party in the Dakota Territory since he knows region very well. He is accompanied by his half Pawnee (term referred to one of the native Indian tribes living in central regions) son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Once when Glass and his son are away hunting, an Arrikara (another tribe) war party looking for its chief’s kidnapped daughter, Powaqa, attacks the trappers. The gun shots alert Glass and his son and they rush to the camp. However, they are outnumbered and are forced to flee in their boat. Many of the trappers are killed in the ambush.

Glass decides that it will be safe to go to Fort Kiowa (a kind of outpost in that region) on foot rather than on boat. So they abandon boat, store their pelts at a location and carry on foot over mountains. While hunting for the group alone, Glass is attacked by a Grisly bear who is there protecting her cubs. Glass is mauled and injured grievously in the attack. The group soon discovers him but he is in bad shape and many conclude that he will die in few hours. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a trapper, says that Glass be relieved of his pain by mercy-killing him and the party should proceed without him as carrying him in this injured state is not an option. Andrew does not have the heart to kill him and he instead announces reward for anybody staying back till Glass is alive to give him proper burial. Fitzgerald volunteers to stay for money along with Hawk and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), another young trapper, who were already staying back.

After the trappers leave, Bridger goes to get water and when Hawk is away from Glass, Fitzgerald tries to smother Glass. However, Hawk returns in time and hits Fitzgerald. In the ensuing fight, Fitzgerald stabs and kills Hawk in front of Helpless Glass who can’t even yell or speak. As Bridger returns he asks about Hawk but Fitzgerald feigns ignorance. At dawn, Fitzgerald tricks Bridger into believing that Arrikaras are approaching and hence they must run. Bridger protests as Glass is still alive. Fitzgerald coaxes him to come with him as, He says, Glass is going to be dead anyways. They reach Fort Kiowa and Fitzgerald collects his money by lying about Glass and Hawk. Jim Bridger doesn’t say anything as he is scared of Fitzgerald.

Meanwhile, Glass carries on his own by eating whatever he can find and treating his wounds using herbs and cauterizing a grievous neck injury. He moves near stream by limping with the help of a stick and hides from Arrikara party looking for their chief’s daughter. In search of food, he encounters another Pawnee and shares bison meat with him. Pawnee carries him on his horse and builds a makeshift shelter for protection from approaching snow storm when he notices Glass’s wounds and fever. After Glass recovers, he ventures out to find that French have killed the Pawnee. He moves towards their camp and discover a Frenchman raping a girl. She is Powaqa, the Arricara chief’s daughter. He empowers him, lets loose some of their horses and sets Powaqa free and escapes with a horse and gun. Next day, however, they catch with him and chase him off a cliff. Glass’s horse dies and he is deadly injured. He survives storm and cold by enveloping himself inside horse’s carcass. When weather clears he continues walking towards Fort Kiowa.

At Fort Kiowa, an English speaking French soldier seeks refuge. When he is being enquired, Bridger notices Glass’s engraved water canteen with him. Thinking that Hawk must be carrying it, Andrew organizes a search party. Fitzgerald realizes that Glass might be alive. The search party finds exhausted and injured Glass. They return to outpost with Glass and angry Andrew searches for Fitzgerald but he has decamped with money kept in safe. Glass and Andrew set out to get him. At a junction both split and take opposite routes. Fitzgerald counters Andrew and kills him. The gun shot prompts Glass to run towards Andrew’s route. He discovers dead Andrew and prepares a decoy to trap Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald spots two people on horse and fires a shot. However, when he comes near, Glass fires at him from another horse. He runs and ultimately they engage in fisticuffs. Glass overpowers him but doesn’t kill him. He releases him into downstream where Arrikaras are at other end and their chief kills Fitzgerald.

The film is one of the rare films which won major awards at Academy, BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards-the big three. Alejandro Inarittu is spectacular as usual who takes us right into 19th century snow laden Dakota Territory. Leonardo too is superb who portrays gritty trapper Glass and then there is Tom Hardy who too is spot on but the cake is taken by Cinematographer (DoP) Emmanuel Lubezki who deservedly won awards at big three. Shooting in snow is not easy and then if you manage long takes and deep closes, you do deserve accolades.

About the director, Alejandro G. Inarritu

Born in August, 1963 in Mexico city, Mexico, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu is a prolific director, producer, screenwriter, film editor and composer. He has won numerous awards including four Academy awards, three Golden Globe awards and three BAFTA awards for his films. Alejandro Iñárritu is the first Mexican filmmaker to be nominated for either director or producer in the history of the Academy Awards, the first to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, the first to receive the Best Director Award at Cannes, and the first to win a DGA (Directors Guild of America) Award. He was also the first Latin American filmmaker to become ‘President of the Jury’ for Cannes Film Festival in 2019.

Alejandro’s childhood was riddled with problems. His father Hector Gonzalez Gama, a banker, became bankrupt when Alejandro was five years old and he was expelled from school, when he was around sixteen, because of poor grades and misbehavior. He left home and worked as a sailor on cargo boats at the tender age of seventeen. He visited Africa and stayed in Europe for around a year. These travels did enrich his experiences which came in handy as he turned filmmaker. After he returned, he enrolled for communications course at ‘Ibero-American University’, a private catholic Mexican higher education institution.

He began working in 1984 as a Radio Jockey (host) at WFM, Mexico’s most popular rock music radio station. As RJ he interviewed many famous artists like Elton John, Bob Geldof, Carlos Santana, etc. These interactions must have enriched his musical senses because from 1987 to 1989 he composed music for six Mexican feature films. In early nineties, Inarritu formed a company ‘Z film’ which made short films and advertisements. During these times, he studied direction under theatre director Ludwik Margules in Mexico and Judith Weston in Los Angeles, USA.

He directed his first feature film, ‘Amores Perros’ in 2000 which talked about Mexican society through three interconnected stories. The film was premiered in Cannes Film Festival and won ‘Critics’ week grand Prize’. The film was also nominated in ‘Best Foreign Film’ category for Academy (Oscar) Awards. Then followed ’21 Grams’ (2003) and Babel (2006). ‘21 Grams’ competed for ‘Golden Lion’ at Venice Film festival and ‘Babel’ competed at Cannes Film festival where Alejandro won the ‘Best Director’ award and became the first Mexican to win the award. Babel was critical and commercial success.

Present film ‘The Revenant’ is based on true events from the life of fur trader, hunter and trapper Hugh Glass who lived in early nineteenth century. As written earlier, the movie is based on a novel by Michael Punke. Interestingly, another movie on Hugh Glass’s life was made in 1971, titled ‘Man in the Wilderness’. “The Revenant’ was nominated for 12 Academy Awards. Alejandro Inarittu in one of the only three directors who have won Oscars in two consecutive years.