Survival has always been about either vanquishing or besting one’s foes, whether they’re humans or offshoots of Nature at its most unforgiving. In The Revenant, co-written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the protagonist must triumph over both. The ordeal is not pretty.
The movie is loosely based on Michael Punke’s novel set in the fur-trade era of the early 19th century, whose subtitle – “A novel of revenge” – tells you all you need to know. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), along with his teen-aged Native American son, Hawk, is part of a team of trappers. After a brutal attack by a Native American tribe, the survivors escape. Shortly after, Glass is nearly mauled to death by a grizzly bear that had proactively defended its cubs.
Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the person-in-charge who has hired the father-son pair as the group’s tracking guides, sees that Glass is near death. He makes a monetary deal with three scouts to stay behind, tend to Glass and, when the time comes, give him a proper burial. One caretaker is Hawk. The second is the kindly but extremely malleable young adult, Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). The third is the instantly unlikeable John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who, unsurprisingly, also proves to be dishonorable. He murders Hawk – an act witnessed by Glass – and, eager to bring his commitment to Glass to a close, tells Bridger that enemies are approaching. The lad, who fears Fitzgerald and believes that Hawk has simply gone missing, flees with Fitzgerald.
With no rifle and only a canteen filled with water that Bridger has left him, Glass somehow wills himself, in Saturnian fashion, to survive dangers posed by various Native American tribes, the French and some really extreme weather. Sometimes unexpected sources proffer kindness. The crisp, breathtaking cinematography underscores the beauty of a terrain still relatively pristine, but which nevertheless is, at its core, impersonal.
The environment’s indifference and lack of caring find a human counterpart in the rotten Fitzgerald, the Plutonic endpoint of Glass’ mission to exact justice. Towards the movie’s conclusion, Glass’ statement about his objective – that he’s not afraid to die anymore, because he’s already done it – neatly bundles archetypal Pluto’s bailiwick of death, revenge and absolute power represented by Fitzgerald.
From the first moment he crawled out of his makeshift grave, Glass became, in Pluto fashion, a good-as-dead phoenix rising from proverbial ashes of snow. The resurrection theme is again depicted when Glass emerges from another tomb, the hollowed-out body of a horse. What has perished in this ordeal is the last bit of his family. What takes its place is a desire for vengeance, a motive which, in the end, becomes transformed in a twist that invokes an ancient spiritual adage.
The movie itself is essentially a sort of spiritual trek. It shifts from Glass’ going outside himself to even the score, to journeying within to attain some measure of peace. The titular revenant – the one who returns from the dead – becomes the one who comes full circle. Don’t miss it.
Astrology Archetype: ♄ ♇ (Saturn, Pluto)