I failed you all. I went to a movie and told you I liked it, and you were all shocked and horrified. But I can now compensate for that. I saw another movie, and I hated it.
It was The Revenant.
Some things I liked. It was very pretty, if you’re into winter scenes, watching snow fall, ice melt, glaciers retreat and advance, and people struggling to keep warm, then this is the show for you. In my case, though, I can just step outside my door any time between November and April and get that.
But otherwise, it stuck with the winter theme by having a plot that was glacially slow. It was prolonged torture porn. Hugh Glass, a trapper in the early 19th century, gets brutally mauled by a bear, and is then abandoned by his companions, in particular, the cowardly Fitzgerald, who tells everyone that he died and was buried. Except he wasn’t dead, and glass literally crawls 200 miles across Montana and South Dakota in the middle of the winter to return to safety, and possibly revenge.
It’s very loosely based on a real event, and a book, The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. Except that it changes things. The book has a far more ambiguous ending. In the book, Fitzgerald abandoned Glass all right, but the movie also makes him a murderer, to motivate a more explicit retribution, and turns it into a black and white story of good and evil. Everything was twisted and changed to make the story better fit the simple “hero kills the bad guys” model of a standard American cowboy movie.
DiCaprio plays Glass, and is apparently up for an Oscar award. It was a horrible performance. He’s unable to speak for the bulk of the movie, so he grunts, grimaces, and has dreams about his Indian wife, who was murdered, of course. Real men can’t be tangled up in human affection, but need to be alienated and driven by hatred for the other men who killed his conveniently dead wife, in a frozen wasteland, which is kind of a metaphor for a refrigerator, I guess.
Similarly problematic is the treatment of Indians. They, too, are mostly dead and slaughtered, and are convenient motivators for the angry white man. Indian women get it even worse: bartered, prostituted in frontier bars, kidnapped, raped, murdered, and occasionally being privileged to reappear as mystical magical floating ghosts to inspire Leo DiCaprio to persevere. Warning: some people had an even stronger revulsion to the abuse of Indian women than I did.
The story has the same fundamental problem as Dances With Wolves. It takes a deep tragedy that shattered an entire people in a gloriously beautiful landscape, and centers it entirely on the lone white guy having a rough time on the prairie. There is a great movie waiting to be made about this period and this place, but The Revenant isn’t it. We’re still waiting for a movie maker who actually understands what the American West was about.