88 Thoughts I Had While Watching The Revenant

The Revenant is one of the most visually resplendent films I’ve ever seen, capturing the wilderness of the early 19th century Louisiana Purchase with an almost painful loveliness and staging its unrelenting violence with confidence and restraint. Unfortunately, beneath the flashy visuals and exemplary performances lies a boilerplate revenge story that is empty of heart, soul, and psychological insight. Cinematography aside, it plays like a particularly sophomoric superhero movie, explicitly stating its (exceedingly trite) themes left and right and eschewing any meaningful character development for the sake of a gratuitously satisfying kill shot.

(It also doesn’t help that there were no female characters of consequence. What can I say? I get bored in movies where women get raped and killed but don’t get to speak.)

SPOILERS ABOUND!
    1. Obligatory dead wife flashbacks. Too sick of this trope for words.
    2. At first I can’t tell if the woman is his dead wife or his dead daughter, but I guess that’s par for the course with Leo.
    3. “As long as you can grab a breath, you fight. Keep breathing.” If you didn’t hear this the first time, don’t worry, you’ll be reminded that this is the thesis of the movie several times over.
    4. All that being said, this movie is already breathtakingly beautiful.
    5. Domhnall Gleeson is in this? Does he have a supporting role in every Oscar-nominated movie this year? (Not that I’m complaining.)
    6. After a few slow-burning minutes, a faraway naked man takes an arrow to the head in an artful shot that shows the crisis starting nearly offscreen, like Icarus falling from the sky in the background.
    7. Another man takes an arrow to the throat, falls into a fire, and goes up in flames, and then everything goes straight to hell. Men start going down left and right, naked and bloodied bodies are dragged away, a woman is shot out of a tree, a man is shot through the eye in close-up. Another man is shot in the leg underwater and screams for help even as the water turns red, telling us that the arrow probably hit an artery. It’s bracing, breathless, brutal pandemonium.
    8. There’s a haunting shot of an old Native American man singing among the dead bodies. It’s affecting, but smacks of the “noble savage” cliché, especially since we spend the vast majority of the runtime with white men.Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.39.04 PM
    9. Tom Hardy’s words of wisdom: “Life? I ain’t got no life. I only got living.” That’s deep, man.
    10. Tom Hardy calls Leo’s half-native son a “half-breed” and the Arikara “savages.” To the movie’s credit, he’s supposed to be a villain, but I also don’t think the movie disagrees with these sentiments as much as it thinks it does.
    11. Leo’s hamfisted line to his son, “They don’t hear your voice! They only see the color of your face!” makes me hopeful that this movie will explore racial tensions and/or colonialism in a marginally meaningful way.
    12. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
    13. So… there really aren’t any women in this movie?
    14. Oh, right, dead wife. So no women who get to be alive and/or speak?
    15. Don’t kill the bear cubs, Leo! They’re so cute!
    16. Oh okay, the mother bear is attacking him, and it’s awful. But, you know, at least the cubs are safe.
    17. This is painful to watch–in the best possible way.
    18. Those cracking sounds. Ow.tumblr_o2m1h8BPRd1qcaycmo1_1280.gif
    19. The bear is really cute when it’s sniffing Leo post-attack, it looks like a dog trying to wake its owner.
    20. Leo actually seems to be in better shape than I thought, considering that a bear just chewed him up and stood on his head.
    21. Oh, here we go again. It’s RETURNING, you guys, get it?
    22. The bear just swiped open Leo’s throat. God, that’s gruesome.
    23. They roll down a hill, the bear lands on top of him, and everyone laughs. Glad it wasn’t just me.
    24. Tom Hardy is a TERRIBLE liar when he says he’ll stay with Leo. Is Domhnall Gleeson supposed to be sort of a dimwit for believing him?
    25. “Remember what Mother used to say about the wind?” Did this movie learn everything it knows about Native American culture from Pocahontas?
    26. “You’re still breathing.” Yes, remind us of the film’s thesis again, it’s so comforting and familiar.
    27. “As long as you can still take a breath, you fight.” I WAS BEING SARCASTIC.
    28. More dead wife visions. I feel like I’m watching Braveheart.
    29. Edit: at least the fridged wife in Braveheart got a name. Dead Wife never gets a name, even on IMDb[kht: She might actually be better off than whoever played “Dave Stomach Wound”]
    30. But I have to admit, the bird flying out of the bullet hole in Dead Wife’s chest is an amazing image.                                                                    bird
    31. If the story about Tom Hardy’s scalping is supposed to humanize him, it doesn’t really work, but the line, “My head was turned inside out” is very evocative.
    32. I love that Tom Hardy says, “If you blink, I’ll be nice and kill you,” and then waits for Leo’s answer for like, two full minutes. Who wouldn’t need to blink after that long?
    33. Okay, that was a long blink. I guess he does want to die.
    34. Tom Hardy stabs Hawk, and Leo does a lot of close-up wordless screaming and spitting like a champ.
    35. Hawk coughs up blood, which in the movies is the Universal Sign of Impending Death. If your throat is slit open and your bones are broken and you’re nearly suffocated, you’ll be fine, but cough up blood and you’re toast.
    36. Yet more close-ups of Leo spitting.
    37. SO MANY CLOSE-UPS.
    38. Leo has turned in better performances that were richly deserving of awards (his starring turns in Revolutionary Road and The Great Gatsby were particularly brilliant and overlooked), but the physical suffering he endures in The Revenant, both real and fictional, will probably get him that elusive Oscar. Why reward him for great acting when we can reward him for being really cold?

    39. (And speaking of shameless Oscar-baiting: The Revenant is touted as “based on an incredible true story,” when it’s actually “based on a novel that’s loosely based on a myth that might be loosely based on a true story.” But I guess that wouldn’t fit on the poster.)
    40. Tom Hardy is burying him alive! That’s one way to interpret “proper burial,” I guess.
    41. Will Poulter’s conflict over whether to shoot Leo or abandon him is poignant, and the first time there’s been a compelling psychological conflict in this whole movie. When he repeats, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I feel so bad for both of them.
    42. PRETTY
    43. How is Leo suddenly climbing out of that grave? Tom Hardy and Will Poulter were literally just throwing him around like a rag doll and burying him alive two minutes ago, where were his superhuman healing powers then?
    44. Leo drinks water, which dribbles out of the hole in his throat and makes him cough up watery blood. Awesomely gross.
    45. Oh God, is he really going to cauterize that wound with gunpowder? I’m not squeamish, but this is rough.
    46. And now he’s out-swimming oncoming bullets like a boss? Who is this guy, Jack Bauer?
    47. A nameless Native American woman comes out of the shadows and eats food left by Will Poulter. She doesn’t speak.
    48. “It turns out that God? Is a squirrel. I shot and ate that son of a bitch.” This was my favorite line of the entire movie. It’s no “the meaning of life is 42,” but it’s amusing all the same.
    49. Also, Tom Hardy is acting the shit out of this. His character may be a one-dimensional snarling villain, but he’s making the most of it.
    50. Aw, look, Leo made a friend. And he’s talking again! The dialogue offers nothing aside from platitudes like “revenge is in the Creator’s hands” and exposition about what we spent the last hour and a half watching, but at least now I might stay awake.
    51. They’re catching snowflakes with their tongues! Too cute.
    52. And now the movie has killed all of that goodwill with yet another raspily whispered, cliché-ridden Dead Wife voiceover.
    53. “In a storm, when you stand behind a tree, if you look at its branches, you swear it will fall. But if you watch the trunk, you will see its stability.” Yeah, yeah, we get it, he’s the tree. The adversity he faces (including actual inclement weather) is the storm. This barely even counts as a metaphor.
    54. This movie is so damn gorgeous. If only the characters wouldn’t open their mouths.
    55. Oh, wait, that was like half the movie. Now I get it!

       

    56. I take back everything I’ve said about gender representation, as there’s now a woman getting raped against a tree. That’s what Bechdel was talking about, right?
    57. Leo is kind enough to stop the rapist and hand him over to his now-armed victim in a compromising position. Congratulations, The Revenant, your treatment of rape has reached the same level of sensitivity and nuance as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
    58. “I’ll cut off your balls.” The only line spoken by a live woman in this whole goddamn movie.
    59. Domhnall Gleeson and Tom Hardy are both getting cozy with women. Neither woman speaks.
    60. (But was that a gay couple dancing in the background? That’s nice.)
    61. Did Leo actually just fall off a cliff because he wasn’t looking where he was going? I’m laughing, should I not be laughing?
    62. I knew he was going to be alive, because we still have about an hour of this interminable movie to go. But… really, he’s still alive? Really??
    63. He cuts open his poor dead horse, scoops and dumps out its innards, and snuggles naked inside it for warmth. It’s an amazing visual, possibly meant to symbolize… something? He’s empty inside now, and the horse represents his psychological state? The indifference of nature requires that survivors live off of other living things’ sacrifices? Everyone he loves is dead, so he finds comfort and warmth cuddling with a dead thing? Whatever, the movie is hardly substantive enough to support any of these readings. It’s probably just an opportunity for an Oscar-worthy gross-out gag.Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 9.49.44 AM
    64. Ugh, the frozen skin crackles as he gets out of it in the morning. Gross, gross, gross.
    65. Leo is back at camp, and Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter are SO GOOD in the “Say the Lord’s prayer!” scene. They aren’t getting nearly enough attention for this.
    66. Good lord, the dialogue between Leo and Domhnall Gleeson is terrible. “I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I’ve done it already.” Yeah, yeah, we know. You literally rose from a grave, it wasn’t exactly subtle.
    67. “He has everything to lose. All I had was that boy. And he took him from me.” Yeah, WE KNOW.
    68. No wonder Leo didn’t speak for forty-five minutes, when all of his lines are this embarrassingly inert. He’s had five lines in this scene and he’s managed to melodramatically state every meager psychological beat this movie has to offer.
    69. Domhnall Gleeson is starting to forget his wife’s face. Aw. That’s sad.
    70. It now occurs to me that Domhnall Gleeson is the only character (with the possible exception of Will Poulter) who ever feels like a real person. I enjoy this movie so much more when he’s on screen.
    71. Aaaand now Domhnall Gleeson is dead.
    72. Nice shot of his partially scalped skull dangling from the horse. Gives a whole new meaning to the expression “hanging brain.”
    73. (I can’t believe I just wrote that. What is this movie doing to me?)Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 6.11.47 PM
    74. As Leo searches for his white whale, I suddenly start to hope that he’ll lose him entirely, or that Tom Hardy will kill him as a result of some arbitrary bad luck. That nihilistic ending would mitigate like 20% of my reservations about this movie.
    75. Leo just sneak-attacked Tom Hardy by pretending to be Domhnall Gleeson’s corpse. That’s pretty cool, if ridiculously elaborate for someone who’s already the better shot.                                             tumblr_o1dgt9HPKK1v64s9mo1_540
    76. Tom Hardy on that whole murdering-a-child thing: “Maybe you should have raised a man, instead of a girly little bitch.” Glad to see they’re trying to find the humanity in this character so we care at all about his imminent death.
    77. Tom Hardy’s response to getting his fingers chopped off: “Goddammit.” Heh. I actually liked that one.
    78. This fight scene is perfectly choreographed to be intimate and personal, closely evoking the bear attack from the beginning of the movie. In a nice touch, Leo even stabs Tom Hardy in the same place he stabbed the bear.
    79. Now Tom Hardy has stabbed Leo in the hand. Bummer, but at least it was his left?
    80. Oh, he’s using his left hand just fine anyway. That seems realistic.
    81. Leo grabs onto Tom Hardy’s belt for leverage. Take it away, Tumblr.
    82. “Revenge is in God’s hands, not mine.” Yes! They’re going for the mature ending, I love it!
    83. Oh wait, no–he’s dumping him in the water to be swiftly sliced open by the Arikara. I mean, I’m not sure that’s exactly what God meant?
    84. I’m laughing out loud again, during the climactic scene of the film. Woops.
    85. It’s just so silly; it’s like Batman’s “I’m not going to kill you, but that doesn’t mean I have to save you” in Batman Begins. No-kill rule my ass.
    86. Powaqa passes by on a horse. Still doesn’t speak.
    87. The implication is that Glass’ act of “kindness” towards Powaqa inspires her to spare his life. Was that the entire point of this undercooked kidnapping subplot? To glorify a white man who deigned to help a Native American woman after she was abducted and raped by other white men? Shut up, Alejandro Iñárritu.
    88. We close on another stupid Dead Wife vision and some heavy breathing. That sounds about right.

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6 Comments

  1. This was really great! Enjoying your thoughts on Westworld right now as well. Are you interested at all i sharing your work with our readers on moviepilot.com? Would love to help you share your articles with a larger audience!

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