By now almost every movie lover knows that The Revenant , winner of 3 Golden Globe Awards, and nominated for 12 Academy Awards, has been described as an endurance test so tortuous some crew members quit. “Revenant” connotes bringing back from the dead and that is exactly what happens in this three-hour film. Hugh Glass, the real-life tracker and fur trapper, managed to survive what was almost unsurvivable, but permanently changed. Pushing the boundaries of physical stamina, Leonardo DiCaprio is almost certain to win the Academy Award for his raw and harrowing portrayal of Glass. The viewer comes out asking “How could he possibly do that?” But The Revenant is so much more than a struggle of man against nature, primal and intense, or a tale of vengeance.
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu (of Birdman, Babel, and Amores Perros fame), The Revenant is an extraordinary feat of film making. Astonishing cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, filming in natural light and shadow, expresses eloquently the harsh but beautiful environment. In some clips more black and white than color, the visual brilliance replaces dialogue and character in conveying emotion and the heart of darkness. Witnessing Glass’s journey from hell, we are more like voyeurs. So uncomfortably close to what we see, we even see –almost feel- the actor’s breath frosting the camera lens.
The action scenes are so visceral you feel as if your bones are cracking. Spectacular simulation of these sequences belie the fact that these are, in fact, artifices.
While The Revenant pushes the boundaries of film-making, suggesting the eloquence of classic silent movies, it is almost mythic in its balance between the brutal beauty of nature and human’s disruptive role in it. DiCaprio gives a virtuoso performance, the best of a formidable career. This is a narrative without words, a film of pictures and physicality that is unforgettable. As an author, I left the theater reflecting on the power of the scene when words will not suffice.