While exploring uncharted wilderness in 1823, legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass sustains injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back home while avoiding natives on their own hunt. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, Glass treks through the wintry terrain to track down John Fitzgerald, the former confidant who betrayed and abandoned him.
User Reviews: There have been two masterpieces in cinema this year. In Mad Max Fury Road, George Miller gifted us a dystopian deconstruction of the inevitable consequences of the will to own: a society both totalitarian and nihilistic, headed by an obscenely controlling monster commanding drug fueled Jihadis, regulating every resource from water to mother’s milk. Misread in some places with a strictly "feminist" critique, exegesis of Miller’s film can fly marxian or libertarian it hardly matters as the solution to the chaos of dictatorship the director provided with Furiosa’s victory was both egalitarianism and freedom.
In The Revenant, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu attempts something more subtle: with one stroke of his pen, by giving protagonist Hugh Glass a native wife and son, he weds an early icon of American Exceptionalism into a matrimony of Old World and New. It was not long after Glass’s travails that ambitious frontier writers grew his legend, and by the end of the 19th century Glass had entered a pantheon of American folklore heroes from the wholly fictitious Paul Bunyon, to the richly documented Davy Crockett. The historical Glass fell somewhere between symbolic characters like Johnny Appleseed and fictionalized pioneer figures such as Daniel Boone. Glass’s place among these icons ebbed and flowed with each new literary interpretation, but none has challenged his role as an early representation of the American cultural values based on Puritan work ethic, Calvinist Pre-Destination, and economic liberalism. By the time Thoreau poetically stamped naturalism on the emerging national character, the attributes of perseverance, "rugged individualism", and emotional solitude had solidified into the championing of an individual persona that collectively birthed the philosophies and policies of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny.
Wholly within a European tradition, neither Glass’s experience nor iconography made room for a shared native American narrative. The value of communalism, spiritual communication with the natural world, and preservation of the environment were never compatible with the mission to homogenize and control that environment with ever increasing technological advancements. Native lifestyles and beliefs, in particular the unwillingness to entertain the notion that land could ever be privately owned, doomed any hope for a co-existence of equals. But in the Revenant, Iñárritu suggests that Glass’s almost super human fortitude and survival skills were sourced not just from the core early American cultural value of self-sufficiency, but from the First Nationer acceptance of nature as a reverential if temperamental partner; a mate not to be dominated and contained, but to be respected and cajoled into compatibility. In the face of the arbitrary brutality of nature, it is not Glass’s master of technology that saves him, it is his native-like learned connection to the spirit world and his understanding of the natural world that restore and guide him. Glass is a man with a foot planted firmly in both worlds, but it is his chosen one that is both sacrificed in the person of his son Hawk, and transcended in the visions of his dead wife and son. On his recovery and "revenge" mission, his sustenance is derived from animism; his survival from a native conciliation with the harsh environment.
I believe in The Revenant the film-maker wants his audience to extrapolate the sources and resources of Glass’s survival and consider the role that native peoples had in the formation and growth of a nation, to ponder and accept the importance that native people’s beliefs and practices had and still have in creating a harmonious balance between a natural world that is and will always be capable of demolishing the best plans and inventions of men, and the harnessing of that world in the name of advancement. Iñárritu’s revision of the Glass story is not a mere plot device; it is a radical epistemological one that poses timeless questions. I do feel the wonderful performances, majestic cinematography, and riveting action in The Revenant are all subordinate to what the director would like us to entertain about the survival and "revenge" of Hugh Glass.