Cinematic Release: The Revenant (2015)

Michelle Kisner experiences the brutality of The Revenant.

They said if I carried a dude named
Oscar on my back, I might get an award....
....they said.
After Alejandro G. Iñárritu's highly lauded film Birdman impressed critics and audience members alike, everyone was wondering how he would follow up such a unique film.  He next choice would be The Revenant, a biographical western about a frontiersman named Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). This movie was filmed in the open wilderness which is about as far away as you can get from the claustrophobic mania of Birdman. A revenant is a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living. That meaning encapsulates the entire theme of this film--the idea that evil actions sometimes do not go unpunished, even if the consequences aren't experienced immediately. The chickens always come home to roost, as they say.

The Revenant is about a vendetta that Hugh has against his former traveling companions that did him wrong on a fur-trapping expedition. The bulk of Hugh's hate is directed towards John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a shady individual who commits an especially heinous crime towards Hugh. Both Hardy and DiCaprio put in amazing performances in this film and they change roles thought the movie, switching between being the predator and the prey. The passion and intensity that goes into both actor's performances is palpable and it culminates in brutal showdown that had me on the edge of my seat.

Emmanuel Lubezki's breathtaking cinematography takes this film to a entirely different level. His filmography is impressive: Gravity, Birdman, The Tree of Life, and Children of Men to name just a few. I could not believe the spectacle that assaulted my eyes during every single scene. Some of these shots are mind-boggling in both their composition and in their scope. Another amazing feat is the entire film was made using natural lighting and whatever weather conditions were present on that particular day of shooting. Most of the film takes place in forests and snow-covered wilderness so there is a distinct contrast between the nestled trees and the barren tundra of the open areas. Often times, the film cuts between intense action scenes and quiet low-angle shots of the treetops swaying in the wind.

This is the first time I've ever
had to wear a Wookie costume.
But damn, it's nice and comfy.
The score, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also scored the anime classic The Wings of Honnêamise) is excellent as well, and for the most part quite minimal. With visuals that are this fantastic, it makes sense to keep the music more in the background. It's a mixture of symphonic instruments and a little bit of electronic influence. This film is more about the quiet moments in life and reflection/meditation, so I admire Sakamoto's restraint with the score. The sound production in general is great and you can hear every branch creaking and the crunch of every footstep in the snow. 

While this is not a negative to me personally, it does bear mentioning that The Revenant does take jaunts into the surreal sometimes. It's not often, but I think some viewers might find these scenes to be self-indulgent or pretentious. I don't disagree with this sentiment but I also don't mind it. I don't want every film to be a perfunctory outline with no director flair or personal touches. Please, indulge yourself and pour your heart into whatever you make and pay no heed to the jaded and cynical critic. Although this is a gorgeous movie, it is also a violent and disturbing film. It pulls no punches either visually or emotionally and many a time I felt anxious or out-of-sorts while watching the events unfold. All of these things combine to make an incredible viewing experience that should not be missed by any film fan.


Michelle Kisner