Review of The Revenant, Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
The Revenant is steeped in a thick nihilism. It is much more than a story of man versus wild. It is an engrossing vision of man as part of the wild. Man is not above nature, but under it.
Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and his hunting team leaves him in the care of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Bridger (Will Poulter), and Glass’s son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), as the rest of the team moves on. Days pass and eventually Fitzgerald and Bridger abandon Glass to his fate on false pretenses. What follows is Glass’s gruelling journey through the wilderness to seek revenge.
After spending hours with the character, Hugh Glass, we realize we know little about him other than his instinctual love for his offspring and a thirst for vengeance. His past is conveyed in short snippets—enough to know the trauma. But who is he? What is he actually like as a person, as a human, as a companion? These are irrelevant.
There is an otherworldly veneer to the nature we are shown. The scenes of the forests, rivers, and mountains are breathtaking to say the least. The fact that the film uses only natural light drives home the isolation, the remoteness, the eeriness of the wild. But this is a world unfamiliar to us. This is nature unsubdued. This is a world where our categories do not apply. While we fix on Glass’s daring feats and his innovative (and at times stomach-turning) means of survival, we come away with no redemption, no hope, and no future. Friendships are short lived. Good deeds done are not rewarded.
The brilliance of The Revenant is how we become invested in this world without knowing it and accept the lifeworld of the wild as given. Forget social Darwinism. There is no society. We are left with man cast into a prehistoric wild where survival of the fittest truly reigns. God himself is cast off as not only an illusion, an irrelevant detail, but in fact being killed and eaten like the rest of the food chain. According to a story recounted by Fitzgerald, God is a squirrel to be shot and eaten. In The Revenant, we experience a chilling lifeworld of Nietzschean proportions.
Glass’s revenge seems less a righting of a wrong and more an amoral act of nature; a karmic force with no face. And once the force is spent, we are left wondering what left is there for Glass to do. The film’s ending is dissatisfying, but it is as it should be. His family is but a memory. His journey of revenge is over. What else is there in the brutal world of The Revenant?