It seems rather fitting that I find myself trudging through snow, darkness, and the famous soul-biting wind of Omaha to see the latest work of Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu. The winters of the American Midwest, if nothing else, give one the sense that God, Mother Nature, or the Earth herself is quite mad at the human race. As the redness faded from my cheeks and my burning fingers reached for salty popcorn, I knew the discomfort I felt outside would be made no better upon the conclusion of the pre-show trailers. This film does not make its audience comfortable until several moments after one exits the theatre. One cannot afford to be comfortable at this time. Postnormal Times are not comfortable.
The Revenant at face value is a story of a man who survives a brutal bear attack to then seek revenge on those who killed his son and left him for dead. Could a story be more appealing to American audiences? Perhaps this is what drew me to see this movie! While Iñárritu’s last film, Birdman (2014), was one of the best films I had seen in a long time, it is really curious why the Mexican filmmaker would chose such a subject as Hugh Glass. Glass is a nineteenth Century American frontiersman who famously survived and crawled to safety after being left for dead by his crew following a bear attack in modern day South Dakota. His miraculous journey was the subject of American West folklore and was immortalised in Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name; Iñárritu’s film is roughly based on the novel. Punke’s book was hailed as a classic revenge story, rugged, an ideal example of the American Western genre. Not exactly the calling of Iñárritu’s worldly and complex style. Prior to Birdman, most Americans would probably confuse Iñárritu with Alfonso Cuarón or Guillermo Del Toro. Prior to Birdman, his works come from an international perspective tackling issues such as faith and Christianity or the struggles concerning justice with a Latino perspective. Birdman emerged completely out of left field. The Revenant came out of an entirely different stadium. Nevertheless, what remains throughout all of Iñárritu’s films is a requisite of deep thought on the part of the viewer. I feel it is safe to assume he is not motivated to simply entertain predominantly white, American audiences. In this new phase of his career, we see a world in trouble. Birdman provides us with a society lost in complexity, riddled with chaos, reflecting on its own contradictions. Sardar’s Postnormal Times on the big screen. In The Revenant, Iñárritu provides us with his attempt at a navigation of these worrisome times.
To set up our navigation, the film begins in a very weird place. Running water. Water, being a key element of life, is a fitting place to begin. From it rises trees, the Earth, and two humans. A father and a son. An almost unrecognisable Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the rugged Hugh Glass and Forrest Goodluck makes his debut as Hawk. Then there is something not of the Earth per say, their guns. A buck with countless delineation within its antlers, the tree of life made flesh. BANG! The unnatural sound begets our journey which will be rife with natural sounds of life’s struggle. Nearby we see an encampment of men living in nature, yet slowly corrupting it, fires burning, the act of shaving, and the bundling of furs. The progression of morning is paused by the gunshot. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) expresses concern over the unnatural noise to the authority figure of Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). The ominous Other lurks all about.