‘The Revenant’ wins top prizes at Golden Globes; Oscars next?

Alejandro Iñárritu’s much-awaited homage to the American Western is a tale of vengeance and betrayal told in blood

by Vinny Tagle

Alejandro Iñárritu’s much-awaited homage to the American Western, The Revenant, is a tale of vengeance and betrayal told in blood

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NO FRONTIER. ‘The Revenant’ is now famous for its on-set problems and its use of only natural light for its scene photography.

Fresh from his Oscar win, Alejandro Iñárritu takes his latest movie away from the backstages of theaters and into the wild American frontier. The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugo Glass, a fur trader in the early 1800s who is attacked by a bear and gets robbed and left for dead by his companion, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). When Glass recovers, he finds that Fitzgerald also killed his adopted Native American son, sending him on a journey to exact his revenge.

Whereas Birdman was a heavily stylized depiction of an aging actor’s comeback, realism seems to be the defining trait of The Revenant. Iñárritu’s insistence on using natural lighting and conditions as well as on shooting the movie chronologically demonstrate his desire to convey the rawness and ferocity of the American territories—even at the expense of the well-being of the cast and crew, if reports are to be believed. Glass isn’t just on a quest to avenge the death of his son; he also embodies the frontiersmen’s ethos of taming the violent landscape as well as his tumultuous inner life.

The director’s latest pet theme seems to be middle-aged men finding and interrogating what gives their life purpose and meaning, and his Glass is a redeployment of a classic trope in American cinema: that of a troubled man fueled by vengeance to hand justice and bring some order to the lawlessness of the wild. What better genre is there to tell this story than a Western?