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Welcome to Hell: A Review of The Revenant

Maddi O’Neill

No movie will make you more grateful for the existence of gloves than The Revenant. You might think that by 1823, the year in which The Revenant takes place, Americans would have mastered the technology behind gloves.

But no one in the movie — not Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and based on a real fur trader), FitzGerald (played, truly evilly, by Tom Hardy), nor Glass’s half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) — wears gloves, a detail that left me distracted by their bitterly chapped hands throughout the two hour and 40 minute revenge tale.

For more reasons than this, The Revenant is a slog of a movie. It forces viewers to follow Glass through the worst imaginable hardship. Before the true struggle even starts, Glass is making his living as a fur trader in the Great Plains, an occupation I imagine would top “worst job” clickbait lists if it still existed today.

Then, Native Americans attack Glass’s camp, killing dozens of white men who only wanted to pillage land and slaughter animals they didn’t own. To top it off, Glass is mauled by a bear in the infamous scene you have doubtless already heard of. Then, the real tribulations begin when Glass is left for dead by his weather-beaten cohort.

The movie, directed by Alejandro Iñárritu of Birdman fame, is both beautiful and painful to watch. The more violent scenes may leave some feeling nauseated, and the quiet, picturesque landscapes that make up most of the movie are gorgeous but terrifying when you consider having to survive them alone and wearing furs, as Glass seeks to do in his quest for revenge.

The intense gore is necessary to the plot, though, in more ways than one — it demonstrates not only the depth of Glass’s struggle, but the horrors white Americans inflicted on the Native Americans who inhabited the Great Plains before (and while) fur traders came and signaled the beginning of the push west.

The Revenant is a movie about the hell white men were willing to put themselves through for money and the malevolent satisfaction of destroying cultures that were different than their own. Tom Hardy’s masterfully acted FitzGerald is the embodiment of the greed and hate that drove the genocide of Native Americans during this time period, but also of the widespread dehumanization that affected everyone on either side of the struggle.

Iñárritu goes too far in a few places, though. The film’s dialogue is sparse because the main character is alone for much of the movie, but when there is interplay between characters, it can border on cliché.

The mysticism Iñárritu associates with the Native Americans in the film seems almost to stereotype them; at the same time, the movie tells their story through Glass, a white man who happened to father a half-Pawnee son.

Although there are subplots that give viewers a glimpse at what was happening to the Arikara and Pawnee tribes while Glass was self-cauterizing wounds and eating raw animals, they are unfocused and do not adequately display the depth of the tribes’ suffering as they tried to both work with and fight off different groups of angry white men.

The Revenant is beautiful, excruciating and strange. It will make you feel sick in more ways than one. It is worth seeing, in spite of its shortcomings, if only to recognize that there is more to the story than what Iñárritu presents.

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