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Summary / Analysis
Times of India
Fur trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is abandoned by his comrades after he is mauled by a bear and has to use every resource to survive in the wilderness. Set in 1823, this film is loosely based on a true story and outlines his tale of loss, survival and revenge.
Is that really Leo? It's a question you might ask yourself about a half hour or so into this movie. And probably several times after that. Because DiCaprio's greatest achievement in The Revenant is that he makes you forget that it is him you're watching on screen. His degree of character immersion - bearded, bloodied, bruised and more - has arguably never been better.
But this film isn't just a Leo vehicle. Tom Hardy plays John Fitzgerald, also a fur trapper and a part of the fur trapper party led by Captain Andrew Henry (Gleeson). Fitzgerald is equally experienced in the outdoors as Glass. As a man who is almost single-handedly responsible for the ordeals Glass has to endure, Hardy's performance is also brilliantly nuanced.
This is also a film that has the least amount of dialogue from Leonardo. In fact, you can probably count the number of times he utters some words or sentences. Instead, you get to see him ride off a cliff, have frequent flashbacks of his Pawnee wife, eat raw animal organs and almost get ripped apart by a grizzly bear. That aside, Inarritu has also tried to inject a spiritual angle into the narrative.
Beauty and brutality are balanced equally well in this fable, set in a time when America was still the Wild West. The wilderness is depicted amazingly by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman), who along with Inarritu reportedly insisted on shooting only when natural light was available. Actor performances aside, you can tell that the visual canvas of this film is the work of perfectionists. And those visuals gel excellently with the graceful score, courtesy Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto. From the first frame, you know you're in for something special and it's pretty clear that Leonardo has given his everything to this film.
The film’s shoot was shifted to Southern Argentina midway as it was behind schedule and the snow in the Canadian locations had started to melt.
Leonardo DiCaprio terms this as his hardest performance ever. Though a vegetarian, DiCaprio revealed that he actually ate a slab of raw bison liver. He was first given a red gelatinous pancake-like thing, but since it looked very unrealistic, the actor opted to eat an actual liver.
Leonardo learned to speak two Native American languages- Pawnee and Arikara- for the film.
It took five hours to create Leonardo’s fake scar.
Due to the temperamental nature of director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and also the extreme shoot conditions, several crew members left the film midway or were fired.
In 1823, a party of trappers under the command of Captain Andrew Henry hunt for pelts in the vast unsettled wilderness of the Northern Plains, in what was considered unorganized U.S. territory (later the Dakotas). When Ree/Arikara Native Americans launch a surprise attack on the party's camp, many of the trappers are slaughtered and the survivors flee on a boat. At the recommendation of the party's guide and most experienced hunter Hugh Glass, who has knowledge of the area and natives, they abandon the boat and begin the journey back to their outpost, Fort Kiowa, on foot.
The decision bothers some, particularly John Fitzgerald, who is hostile towards Glass's half-native son Hawk, as he was partially scalped by natives years earlier. While scouting ahead alone, Glass is ambushed by a grizzly bear after disturbing her cubs. He manages to kill her, but is badly mauled; the party discover him close to death and carry him on a makeshift stretcher. Fitzgerald argues that Glass will not survive his injuries and that they should kill him to speed their journey. Unwilling to kill Glass, Henry offers payment to those who will stay behind with him instead. Fitzgerald, Hawk, and the young Jim Bridger volunteer. Henry makes Fitzgerald promise to stay with Glass until he dies and give him a proper burial. Once alone with Glass, Fitzgerald tries to smother him, but Hawk discovers them. A struggle ensues and Fitzgerald kills Hawk while Glass watches helplessly. When Bridger returns, Fitzgerald says Hawk is missing, and Glass is too injured to protest. Fitzgerald lies that the Arikara are nearby and that they must abandon Glass; he drags Glass into a shallow grave. Bridger hesitates, but flees with Fitzgerald, leaving Glass with his canteen. Glass crawls from the grave and walks for days, slowly regaining strength and haunted by visions of his deceased Native wife. He escapes the Arikara, whose chief is searching for his kidnapped daughter Powaqa, by floating down the rapids. On their way to Fort Kiowa, Bridger realizes that Fitzgerald lied, but Fitzgerald intimidates him into silence. When they arrive at the fort, Fitzgerald tells Henry that Glass succumbed to his wounds and that Hawk was likely attacked by the Arikara. Henry pays Fitzgerald his reward, but Bridger refuses payment. Glass encounters Hikuc, a friendly Pawnee, who shares bison meat with him. Hikuc has lost his family too, but says that "revenge is in the Creator's hands". The two travel together on horseback and during a blizzard, Hikuc treats Glass's infected skin using maggot therapy and shelters him in makeshift tent made out of tree branches.
Glass wakes the next morning to find Hikuc hanged by a group of French pelt hunters. He infiltrates the camp and sees the leader raping Powaqa. He frees her, kills two hunters, and retakes Hikuc's horse, leaving behind Bridger's canteen. He encounters the Arikara again and escapes by galloping off a cliff, killing the horse and injuring himself further. He survives the night by sheltering inside the horse's carcass.
At Fort Kiowa, a lone French hunter arrives carrying Bridger's canteen. Believing it was stolen from Hawk, Henry organizes a search party and leaves to find him. Fitzgerald, realizing that Glass is alive, steals the fort's money and escapes. Henry's search party discovers Glass and brings him to the fort. Furious, Henry charges Bridger with treason, but Glass assures Henry that Fitzgerald lied to him. Glass insists on joining Henry to find Fitzgerald. After they split up while tracking him, Fitzgerald ambushes Henry. Glass finds him dead and scalped. By pretending to be dead, Glass ambushes Fitzgerald and shoots him in the shoulder. He chases him into the woods and they engage in a bloody fight on a river bank. Glass is about to kill Fitzgerald, but remembers Hikuc's words and pushes him downstream into the hands of the Arikara. The chief, accompanied by Powaqa, scalps and kills Fitzgerald, but spares Glass. Glass walks into the hills and collapses. He has a final vision of his wife, who smiles at him before disappearing into the woods.