Art, cinema and media studies, Film, Photography

quick thoughts: The Revenant (2015) by Alejandro González Iñárritu


The whispery voiceovers from pieces of an intimate conversation over epically swooping camera movements that capture the sun directly, the wind blowing through hair and fabric, trees, the glistening snow, and forests are all very Malickian. We’ve seen these kinds of openings in Days of Heaven (1978), The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life (2011). Whereas Malick’s films search for meaning or God inside the tension between man and nature, Iñárritu’s The Revenant is a Jobian wonderment at nature’s power as man goes head to head with it, bringing to viewers Iñárritu’s awe of human tenacity for survival. 

The film itself seems to have gone through a turmoil just to be made; the original source is a historical novel by Michael Punke which was published in 2002, based on the life of a Pennsylvanian frontiersman Hugh Glass who survived a real bear mauling and was left to die by his men but crawled his way back to a settlement. The film was optioned for a screenplay around the same time of the book’s publication, and initially had John Hillcoat to direct with Christian Bale for the lead, but was later handed to Korean director Park Chan-wook with Samuel L. Jackson in the lead role. After Park abandoned the project as well, the project was handed over to Iñárritu in 2011, who decided to make Birdman. 

According to sources, the film was shot in some of the coldest locations in Calgary and Tierra del Fuego of Argentina. It was shot over nine months. I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone suffered from frostbite (Iñárritu claims that no one on set was harmed). As beautiful as the images were, I was distracted by wondering throughout how on earth the crew had made their way into such wild terrains deep in the winter’s snow.

Aside from the epic visuals, the music made a large impression on me. Iñárritu teamed up with previous collaborator Ryuichi Sakamoto, who also composed Babel (2006), as well as German electronica musician Alva Noto. (Bryce David Dessner is also credited for composition.) The electronica sounds mixed into the voice of Glass’ dead Pawnee wife juxtaposed against the images of a cold winter covered forest creates an alluring and ironic effect.

The violent scenes between the natives and the whites from America and France are gory and brutal. Iñárritu is not immune to problematic representation of Native Americans in the film; the audience is manipulated to root for the white team despite Glass’ partial adoption of the Pawnee lifestyle.

For all the epic effects that the film contains, there are majorly apparent dubbing and sound sync issues which are distractingly noticeable on the big screen. And for all the epic-ness that the film builds up, the content is ultimately quite shallow.


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