Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s visual poem lacks humanity, but DiCaprio is a compellingly animalistic lead.
With no speaking female characters, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant is a long way from passing the Bechdel Test. But one could also argue that male characters- any humans at all, for that matter- are sparingly found in the epic survival drama, so animalistic are the central characters: Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Glass is for most of the film more dog than man; he growls, pounces, sniffs the air for the smell of blood and life. He is pared back to his most basic instincts when faced with the almost certain prospect of death, and presumed Best Actor frontrunner DiCaprio has a merry old time portraying this state of sub-human life. Glass’ troubles begin when he is attacked and viciously mauled by a grizzly bear upon a frontier excursion, in one of the most terrifyingly-realistic scenes in recent cinema memory. Fitzgerald and Bridger (Will Poulter) are assigned the job of caring for the dying Glass, but soon abandon him alone in the wild. DiCaprio spends most of the film innovating and fighting to stay alive, and his adventure is thrilling, yet he is such a one-dimensional, indistinct person when we first meet him that it’s difficult to understand what- other than his wife, glimpsed briefly in flashbacks- his life is actually worth. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, is far better developed, and Hardy’s consistently scene-stealing intensity dominates many a scene where DiCaprio has little to do but act as a dog.
There is another level at which The Revenant can be experienced: ignoring the human elements entirely, and focusing solely on the glorious landscapes shot remarkably by the masterful Emmanuel Lubezki. The Revenant, as its entirely exterior setting would dictate, is far more visually stunning film that Iñárritu’s Birdman. Colour, shape and distance fare utilised to transform the simple cinema screen into a canvass of sensational compositional beauty. Lubezki, it seems, is at least half the talent behind Iñárritu, and it’s hard to fathom how the Mexican director’s work would look without his essential involvement.
The Revenant, as unspeakably magnificent as its visuals may be, lacks humanity. But is it really a film about humans at all?