A closer look at… The Revenant

© 20th Century Fox, 2016.
© 20th Century Fox, 2016.

The Revenant is rated 15 for strong violence, bloody injury detail, strong language

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop – Bleak, brutal and often beautiful, The Revenant makes for a gruelling cinema experience.

In the wilderness of nineteenth century America, fur-trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) ekes out a living for himself and his half-Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). While their hunting party is on the run from hostile natives, Glass is badly wounded in a bear attack. Though Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) attempts to save him, unscrupulous Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) believes it’s best to just let Glass die.

As Glass teeters on the boundary between life and death, Fitzgerald does something unforgivable. And Glass will get revenge, even if it means clawing his way out of his own grave.

Our Take

‘That was very long, wasn’t it?’ I overheard one audience member saying when leaving our screening of The Revenant. ‘I kept thinking, can’t you just kill each other already?’

Though this doesn’t entirely sum up my experience of The Revenant, I can’t deny that the exact same thought crossed my mind during its final act. The film is such a punishing experience – there’s definitely some truth in the criticism that it’s ‘meaningless pain porn’ – that there comes a point when you just want it to end. That point is about twenty minutes to half an hour before it finally reaches its blood-soaked conclusion.

The film’s relentless violence, and the idea that this violence may be viewed as a measure of its authenticity or worthiness, bothers me. But there’s no denying that The Revenant conjures a world of incredible vividness and primal beauty. These flashes of transcendence, along with glimpses of human goodness amid the cruelty, make this troubling journey worth taking.

© 20th Century Fox, 2016.
© 20th Century Fox, 2016.

Dig Deeper

  • How would you describe your experience of The Revenant? Is it possible to ‘enjoy’ a film like this? If not, what alternative experience are we looking for by going to see it?
  • How did you react to the film’s cinematography? Which visual moments did you find particularly memorable or striking? Why do you think the filmmakers paid so much attention to natural beauty in a story full of human ugliness?
  • There has been a lot of media coverage of the suffering the cast and crew underwent whilst making The Revenant.  Do you think their suffering adds to the authenticity of the film, and why or why not? Do you think it’s necessary for people to suffer in order to make worthwhile art?
  • How did you feel about Glass? Would you call him a hero, and were you rooting for him throughout his journey? Did you believe in his bond with his son, and his grief for his wife?

‘You are my son.’ – Glass

  • How did you react to the elements of goodness we see in characters such as Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), Bridger (Will Poulter) and Hicuk (Arthur RedCloud)? How might you have reacted to the moral dilemmas that Henry and Bridger face? What portrait of human nature does the film give us overall?
  • What picture do we get of the Native American characters, and the changes and losses they have faced since the settlers arrived? What might The Revenant have to say about the roots of today’s American society?

‘You all have stolen everything from us.’ – Chief (Anthony Starlight)

  • How did you react to the film’s violence? Why do you think we see so many violent stories, and revenge-themed stories, at the cinema? What relationship is there – if any – between this screen violence and violence in the real world?
  • At what point or points in the story do we see Glass being symbolically ‘resurrected’ or ‘reborn’? What does each ‘death’ do to him, and what kind of man is he reborn as? Why do you think the human instinct towards justice or revenge is so strong?

‘Revenge is in the creator’s hands.’ – Hikuc

  • What kinds of spirituality do we see in The Revenant? What concept of God do different characters hold, and why? According to the film, is there any place for mercy or transcendence in a brutal, violent world?

‘At that moment, he found God. And God, it turns out, was a squirrel.’ – Fitzgerald

© 20th Century Fox, 2016.
© 20th Century Fox, 2016.

Read More
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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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