Before I continue to catch up with reviewing the films of 2015 by taking a look at The Revenant, I want to ask a question and I request that you give this some serious thought. Is Jeff Wells just a troll or is he seriously a moron? Or maybe he’s both, that’s another possibility. For those of you who stay out of the darker parts of the internet, Jeff Wells is a film blogger who thinks that, because he voted for Obama, he’s earned the right to regularly use his column to disparage women. (Wells is the one who publicly complained that the lead of Diary of a Teenage Girl wasn’t, in his eyes, fuckable enough to be a compelling 15 year-old protagonist.) Jeff Wells tweeted the following about The Revenant:
And Jeff Wells hasn’t been alone in claiming that only men can truly appreciate The Revenant. On Overland, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas has an excellent post about this line of male critical thought. Now, speaking for myself, I liked The Revenant a lot more than Heller-Nicholas apparently did. But, at the same time, she hits the nail on the head when it comes to this idea that The Revenant is a film so intense and so full of agony that only men could possibly enjoy it. Much like her, I felt as if “critics” like Jeff Wells and Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers were personally challenging me, as a woman, to actually sit through The Revenant without running from the theater in disgust or hiding my eyes in terror.
And, quite frankly, that’s bullshit. Yes, The Revenant is intense and yes, I did have a bit of a hard time watching that bear maul Leonardo DiCaprio but, at the same time, how would Jeff Wells or Peter Travers handle being mauled by a bear? For that matter, how would either one of them handle being in a high-speed chase or being shot at? Would either one of them be able to outrun an explosion or do any of the other stuff that regularly happens in films that supposedly only appeal to men?
(For that matter, how would Jeff Wells or Peter Travers handle monthly menstrual cramps or giving birth or anything else that women have to deal with in the real world? I imagine they’d probably end up begging the bear to finish them off.)
And really, the whole point of The Revenant is that most human beings (regardless of gender) would not have survived being mauled by a bear or being buried alive or spending months exposed to the harsh wilderness or having pieces of their body start to decay. These are all things that happen to hunter Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) over the course of The Revenant and the film suggests that the only reason he survives is because he’s driven by a desire for revenge. When Glass’s fellow hunter, the gruff Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), decided to abandon Glass, he also murdered Glass’s son, Hawk. Still immobilized by his wounds, Glass could only watch as Hawk was brutally killed.
(Interestingly enough, Fitzgerald is like Glass in that he has also survived a terrible injury. Fitzgerald regularly wears a skullcap to hide the fact that he was scalped in the past. In many ways, Fitzgerald is almost a shadow of Glass. Glass has his son to remind him of what it means to be human but Fitzgerald has no one. And after Hawk is murdered, neither does Glass.)
Though the film focused on Glass’s struggle to survive until he could again track down the men who abandoned him, I have to admit that my main concern was with the character of Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). Bridger, after all, agreed to stay behind with Glass and Fitzgerald and to make sure that Glass received a proper burial after succumbing to his wounds. Bridger was not present when Fitzgeralnd killed Hawk and buried Glass alive and expressed remorse after being falsely told that Glass was dead. Still, The Revenant is a revenge flick and, as I watched, I found myself wondering if Glass would forgive Bridger or if he would take vengeance even on someone who was merely misguided. (If you’ve ever seen a 70s revenge flick, you know that even sincere remorse is usually not enough to avoid being punished.) Since the film continually asks whether or not Glass can survive without sacrificing his humanity, how he handles Bridger is one of the most important scenes in the film.
The Revenant opens with an absolutely terrifying sequence in which a group of hunters is slaughtered by a Native American tribe and it maintains that intensity through the entire film. DiCaprio, Hardy, and Poulter all give excellent performances and special mention should also be made of Domhnall Gleeson, who plays the upright but ineffectual leader of the hunting party and for whom 2015 was a helluva year. (Along with appearing in The Revenant, Gleeson also appeared in Brooklyn, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. ) It’s not always an easy film to watch (though, for me, the close-up of a wound oozing puss was a lot more unsettling than that bear mauling Glass) and there’s a few scenes where director Alejandro Inarritu gives in to his more pretentious tendencies but, for the most part, The Revenant is never less than watchable.
The Revenant is currently an Oscar front-runner. Last night, it beat the highly hyped Spotlight at the Golden Globes. Personally, as good as the film is, I think there are a lot of films that deserve a best picture nomination more than The Revenant. It’s been a great year for film, after all. That said, I do think The Revenant is definitely an improvement on Inarritu’s previous Oscar winner, Birdman.
The Revenant is an intense and harrowing film that can be seen and appreciated (or, for that matter, disliked) by anyone. Don’t let anyone tell you differently!