The Revenant

Director Alejandro Inarritu chooses to not explain anything to the viewer, just gradually allow the story to envelop the audience.
It's winter. We're outdoors. The outfits of the men, and their weapons, makes it look like the 18th century, maybe early 19th. Anyway, it's long before cell phones and computers and airplanes and automobiles and electricity. We're in the real Wild West, somewhere up in the mountains. The men are hunting deer by wading through a river, hoping that the sound and smell of the water running would mask their approach to their prey. But suddenly they hear gunshots from the direction of their camp. It's a Pawnee attack, and a devastating one. The hunting camp, which turns out to be a looking for pelts to sell, soon has to abandon much of their precious prize just to escape. Not many of them do; only 10 from the original 32. But their valuable scout, Hugh (Leonardo DiCaprio), has survived, along with his “half-breed” son, but their presence causes difficulty in the now-smaller ranks. Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleason) tries to keep everyone together, but when Hugh is mauled by a bear and slows up their return to the fort, Captain Henry reluctantly splits the group, leaving the malcontent John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and a young soldier, Jim (Will Poulter) to stay with Hugh and his son. But Fitzgerald, worried about pursuing Pawnees, disobeys the departed Captain's orders, and leaves the severely wounded Hugh to die in the wildnerness.
Now it's a story of survival against all odds. Hugh somehow manages to stay alive, partly because of the aid of a lone Pawnee hunter who shared some buffalo meat with him (it helps that Hugh speaks Pawnee; he'd lived among them for a time, with a Pawnee squaw as wife, but she was killed in a French raid, which we learn from Hugh's dream-memory taking over during his convalescence). Yes, there's a French hunting party out here in the wilderness, as well, also trapping for fur and alternately trading and fighting with the Pawnee (who are also hunted by the Sioux).
Lots of breathtaking landscape shots, underscored by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's grand orchestral accompaniment. Di Caprio, of course, has the acting chops to carry a lot of camera time, but he's not exactly his glamorous Great Gatsby self; this is his turn at rugged mountain man, and he pulls it off convincingly. Even speaking Pawnee with his son (in fact, De Caprio speaks very little English here). Because much of the time is Hugh's convalescing, we enter his thought process, in which he dreams of his (late) Pawnee wife, and fantasizes to the time back when they and their son were a happy family among the teepees. A joyful family reunion, with the backdrop of Christian religious images, turns out to be a mishmash of a dream-memory, along with actually stumbling on the remains of a mural in the ruins of an old mission (presumably Spanish). Hugh's brush with the French patrol, and his freeing of their Pawnee captive, leads to a “free pass” for him when the Pawnee war party catches up to him.
Though much of what motivates Hugh throughout is to take revenge on Fitzgerald, when the moment comes, he remembers, almost too late, that vengeance belongs to the Lord. Here's a film that will transport the viewer to the days of the “real” Wild West, which was a lot about survival in difficult conditions, and a little about figuring out who you are by how you respond to circumstances beyond your control.

Questions For Discussion:
  1. Have you ever felt abandoned by people you thought were friends? How did you handle that situation?
  2. Have you ever felt that members of your family were not accepted by the people around you? How did you respond?
  3. Have you ever spent a significant amount of time by yourself in the wild? How did you react?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Films Critics Association, is Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas