Man versus nature, beast, and man is a trifecta rarely achieved, but The Revenant does more than deliver on all three counts; it shows the nature, conflict, and necessity of the beast within men. It is a tale of the survival, perseverance, and revenge portrayed by an almost unrecognizable Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass. As a tracker more at home in the wild than among the fur traders surrounding him, his secret marriage to a native girl and their son who travels with them under a different name detaches his heart further from his own people. Tom Hardy plays Fitzgerald who represents the uncivilized and crass pioneer begrudgingly following the orders of the more level-headed Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) who argue over Glass’ importance before and after the turning point of the film and Glass’ bleak chances of survival.
After clashing with the natives over the slaughter for pelts, the fur traders are forced into finding an alternate route back to their fort with Glass being the only one qualified to do so. Nature has other plans, and sends a bear to maul him to death in one of the most vicious and realistic attacks I’ve ever seen on film: the kind of violence that sends parents out of the theater with their children in tow, leaving the eerie suspicion that this is only the beginning.
Meanwhile, the local chief and his men are hunting down the trappers and any other white-eye in their way in search of the chief’s kidnapped daughter. With both a family and tribal thirst for revenge, they become yet another pack of predators both Glass and his former company must avoid. An impressive, visceral glimpse between natives and settlers is shown without taking from the film’s primary focus. It’s a constant state of anticipation and that age old tradition of catharsis translated well from Michael Punke’s novel by screenwriters Mark L. Smith and Alejandro G. Iñárritu who also directed the film.
Glass’ recovery dominates almost half the film, but it’s a credit to DiCaprio’s skill as an actor for keeping the audience engaged with little to no dialogue beyond the grunts and screams of a slow and painful road back to life. Left for dead thanks to Fitzgerald, who is very easy to despise as a true villain in each and every scene, we too suffer as helpless observers. His thoughts and dreams drift like the winds to his wife and child orchestrated by some first class cinematography and editing, the reminder this is a story of both love and hate remains the indomitable foundation left intact and the harsh winds take over.
The hunger for vengeance combined with love for his family is the remedy of The Revenant that preserves and fuels him. Furthermore, the careful pacing plays on the audience, making them want to see each of the clash of wills which result in a mood that teeters between vindictiveness and bittersweet vindication. The lasting impression is that peace is sometimes impossible until the war around you and within yourself have both been won.