Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Real Men and Their Beards, or Epic Survival in The Revenant

Being an elitist hipster movie snob, my natural inclination is to avoid seeing films that are too popular, attract too much attention and too many positive reviews, unless it has monsters or some kinda sci-fi/supernatural theme.  (But that unfortunately, rarely happens).  And when a movie gets personally recommended to me, as in someone I know says “you would like this, superantonio,” I dig my heels in even more.  Because how could you possibly know me, how could you know what it’s like to be the bad man, the sad man, behind these brown eyes?  (This is my actual thought process).  But then I remember how I live in reality and I need to trust people more and so why not go see The Revenant (2015) and see what the big deal is?
My initial thoughts from the trailer and scanning reviews were this is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jeremiah Johnson (1972).  Critics praise his intense physical performance and talk about Oscar nominations, but it doesn’t look much different to me than Charlize Theron shaving her eyebrows off for Monster (2003) or De Niro gaining 60 lbs for Raging Bull (1980).  We enjoy watching our stars debase themselves onscreen for our entertainment and amusement; it’s only when they do it in reality that we turn on them.
Leonardo DiCaprio as you must know by now plays Hugh Glass, a hunter leading a band of fur trappers deep in the frontier.  After an Indian attack he’s mauled by a bear and basically left for dead by Tom Hardy, who had a great year with this movie and Mad Max: Fury Road.  The rest of the movie is Leonardo DiCaprio crawling through the forest, driven by his ferocious will to survive and vengeance for his murdered son.  (Did I mention that Tom Hardy killed his son?  Every story needs a villain).  Throughout the film he keeps dreaming of his dead native wife like Maximus in Gladiator (2000), another epic revenge movie that attracted critical acclaim.  We share in Leo’s bloody delirium, which I suppose is the genius of his performance and the reason why this film has garnered so much attention and hype.  When he strips off his clothes and burrows into his dead horse like Han Solo on Hoth, we are brought along for the ride, and what a ride it is
The Revenant is a movie about survival and endurance, casual racism, bloody vengeance, and hard men living hard lives.  It depicts a refreshingly old school, 70’s masculinity with beards in the woods and should at least be seen for that reason alone, as our current choices of masculinity in American Cinema consist primarily of billionaire crime fighting playboys and soft clowns with weak jaws and disproportionally hot girlfriends.
The 1823 world created by Director Alejandro González Iñárritu looks depressingly accurate, muddy, bloody, greasy and cold.  The colors washed out (a digital process) and the violence is sudden and first person, in a style that is reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan (1998).  The landscape becomes a character, a protagonist for Leonardo DiCaprio to endure and we as viewers experience it beside him with scenes punctuated by wind rustling through trees and icy raging rivers.
I am absolutely certain that a large appeal for this movie is derived from current reality shows like Man vs. Wild and Survival Man.  Bear Grylls appeals to a uniquely American self-sufficiency that can seem attractive in a 9-5 world of mortgages, student loans and the celebration of abject consumerism.  And I appreciate the movie and Leo’s performance from that perspective.  However as I said at the start of the post I like what I like, and if I’m not watching alien shapeshifters in remote arctic outposts or lonely vampire girls on skateboards, it’s hard to keep me interested.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.