I saw The Revenant over the weekend with a friend. He had already seen it, and he raved about it on our way to the theater. I generally become more critical of films when I hear a lot of hype leading up to me seeing them. The stakes for The Revenant were already high.
The Revenant lived up to and exceeded all of my expectations. I cannot recall a film in which I relished every single second on screen. Every lingering shot of an eerie half-moon hanging among the clouds, or a close-up of Leonardo DiCaprio’s tortured grimace, was like a window into a time and a world which feels much further from reality than it actually is.
I think the best films make us rethink our own perceptions of the world around us. The historical context of this film (it likely took place around General Ashley’s 1823 Expedition, although the film never specifies so) feels at once distant and all too close for comfort. I could not help but feel a pang of nostalgia for what is often portrayed as a more free and rugged period of American history, which is surely thanks in part to the American mythos surrounding explorers and frontiersmen.
But I was also taken aback by just how little time had really passed between that time and now; less than 200 years, or between six and eight generations depending on your definition. The seemingly lawless violence of the film was stunning in how raw it felt, even without the over-glorifying typically found in action flicks. It forced me to question if that is truly the legacy that has been handed down to us from the American conquering of the West.
I’m not trying to answer that question here. But any film that makes me uncertain of my own understanding of Americans’ shared history — that is a film worth more than its effects budget.
DiCaprio picked up the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, as The Revenant led with five total awards, including Best Director for Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Best Film. The film’s strong performance at BAFTA indicates a similarly big night at the Oscar’s. I honestly think DiCaprio is a shoo-in for Best Actor. Tom Hardy’s performance as the crass Fitzgerald was more enjoyable in the moment, and I think he deserves the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But the images of DiCaprio crawling across the frozen ground, struggling with immense pain — that is what The Revenant leaves with you.