The Revenant: A New American Foundation Story

A story of one man’s intense struggle to win an Oscar — I mean, to survive.

Based on a true story, the movie “The Revenant” shows one man’s intense struggle for survival in the frigid winter of early 19th century America. Of course, it was Leonardo DiCaprio’s another leap of fate towards Oscar that got most people interested in this movie but it is a common response amongst the viewers to place greater value into this movie for its various, extraordinary qualities.

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and actor Leonardo DiCaprio on set of The Revenant. ( Kimberley French / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation )

The director of this Western adventure film, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is definitely verified from his works in the past. His other notable piece, Birdman, managed to sweep last year’s Academy Awards by winning four awards. Although oscar-winning directors are sometimes one hit wonders, his works not only focus on the artistic and subtle segment of movies but also entertainment from the viewer’s perspective, making him a truly remarkable artist.

What makes this movie unique and intriguing, aside from DiCaprio’s breathtaking performance and Iñárritu’s filmography is its approach to the story’s general context. The setting of “The Revenant” has deeper meaning than a mere background of a certain story. Revenge epics are definitely not the rarest of genre but this movie made itself an outlier through reflecting Iñárritu’s own perspective about 1823 America and its cultural reality.

As familiar as we may be with the summarized version of America’s foundation, we tend to ignore the more detailed contents under the surface and cover up the blood-stained history with a silly punchline to a racist joke. Personally, the movie has served as a great reminder to the true nature of America’s foundation: the battle for survival. Stepping back from the rights and wrongs behind the territorial conflicts between native Americans and the new settlers, life would have been pretty harsh for both sides in this time period. As shown in the movies, the Western settlers were desperate for weaving new lives in the new land of opportunity and had to be adventurers themselves in order to gain the fortune to do so. The natives were, on the other hand, desperate for protecting their traditions, lifestyle, and the freedom over their lands they had before the arrival of Europeans.

The ‘real life’ Hugh Glass vs. the Hugh Glass portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio ( The Telegraph )

Even the main plot of the story falls in parallel with this ugly history. Hugh Glass, a man of Western origin, chooses the life on the borderline between white men and the natives. On the contrary, John Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy),  has deep-rooted anguish towards the Indians due to a few traumatic encounters he had with them. These two characters symbolize the rivalry between the native’s ideals, one that pursues harmony with nature, and the new settler’s value, which seeks maximum utility from nature, through exploitation and violence. Throughout the movie, this particular theme is well-expressed in varied ways.

Tom Hardy, who portrayed John Fitzgerald in The Revenant, has been nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for the 2016 Oscars. ( Twentieth Century Fox )

To directer Iñárritu’s credit, there isn’t really one specific part about this movie making it a great film but the combination of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s astonishing vision effects, DiCaprio’s haunting portrayal of Hugh Glass, Tom Hardy’s equally-great performance, and most importantly, the raw and brutal representations that emphasizes the intensity of the drama within the plot managed to turn into a potential masterpiece of his. To sum up, there is a greater quality about watching “The Revenant” than simple sense of enjoyment we find in most movies. In the vast omnipotence of nature, one will find sublime beauty about this movie that goes beyond average expectations people have from films in general.

– Paul Jeon (’17)

Featured Image: Twentieth Century Fox

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