Much has been written about this film, the manner of its production, and its relationship to the true biography of Hugh Glass, mountain man extraordinaire. No film, I suspect, could capture the epic nature of the real life of Hugh Glass, but this film makes the attempt, and I think it comes close.
You should go see this film. Today. That’s my review. Oh, and there is a pretty cool scene late in the film which involves hand-to-hand combat with a knife and a tomahawk – I think any film featuring tomahawk combat is worth your ticket price, but maybe that’s my own bias. ;-)
Two things about this film make me want to blog about it, in spite of the internet having pretty much said all there is to say about this film already. The first is the tremendous cinematography; the visual shots in this film are just stellar, and one example is the use of trees. Early in the film, viewers get a flashback voice-over of Glass’ dead wife saying that if you stand near a tree in the middle of a storm and look at its branches, the tree looks as though it’s coming down for sure. But if you look at the trunk, you see its stability and rootedness, and you can understand how it’s able to withstand the storm. Cool. Once viewers have gotten this little insight, we are inundated with brief and subtle shots of trees, mostly from Glass’ perspective below them, and we are almost subconsciously reminded of the quote from the beginning of the film, and asked to think about the storm that is Glass’ life throughout much of the film.
The second thing that really struck me is the sheer number of visual scenes featuring a birth or rebirth. The name “revenant” means a spirit coming from another world, or a spirit returning from the dead, and Glass’ character lives up to his title. We see Glass get mauled by a humongous bear, of course, but even as he follows his trail for vengeance there is a plethora of images centering on rebirth and renewal: he digs himself out of his own grave; he is left in a makeshift sweat lodge and must force his way out; he seeks shelter inside of a horse and must break his way free, and on and on. At each point he is either near death or he should be, and his breaking out of the encumbrances represents a rebirth as if he were passing through a portal from another world.
The symbolism of this cinematography, combined with the inspiring tale of survival that is Glass’ biography made me think about the lessons from this film. Few of us will have the sort of experiences that tested Hugh Glass; indeed, even within his own tumultuous time period he was an astounding anomaly. But each of us, if we are lucky to live so long, move through periods of growth, decay and personal rebirth, and I think this film reminds us that when all seems darkest, we must simply push through to find the new dawn. And we must breathe, keep breathing, for as long as we keep breathing, we will stay alive and see a new day.