Leading the Oscar race so far with 12 nominations, “The Revenant” is Oscar experts’ favorite to win Best Picture. After seeing it in theaters, I was struck by the cinematography and sweeping landscapes of the raw wilderness in the film’s setting. Directed by Alejandro Iñárritu (who won an Oscar for “Birdman”), “The Revenant” was filmed in British Colombia, Alberta, Montana, and southern Argentina. There is no question the film is beautifully done and deserves its Oscar nod for Best Picture. But I think that the film’s cinematography speaks to the value of nature just as much as it focuses on the movie’s characters.
The film is “inspired by true events,” meaning it elaborately stretches the story of Hugh Glass, a renowned fur trapper and frontiersman. In 1823, Glass and fellow trappers were hired on an expedition in the South Dakota wilderness. On that expedition, an attack by a grizzly bear left Glass nearly dead, and his survival story made him the frontiersman of folklore he has become. (This article has no more plot spoilers, but to read more about what features of the film’s plot are historic or fiction, you can learn more here).
“The Revenant” has a number of environmental themes, and it’s not just because the movie’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio, is an environmental philanthropist who has recently criticized fossil fuel industries. The suspense of the fur trappers’ trek through South Dakota reflects a much more primitive time in U.S. history, when bears and vengeful Native American tribes lurked around every corner. The movie also paints a picture of the ingenuity and resourcefulness required in that era; Glass crawls through a snowy wilderness for weeks, without food, horse, camping supplies, or the normal necessities required for a winter expedition. Although it is a film that follows a story of pain and revenge, the many moments where there is no dialogue or score — just the raw wilderness draped in untouched snow — are truly breathtaking.
Although the South Dakota wilderness in 1823 is not very applicable to the modern Midwest, the relationship between the fur trappers and indigenous tribes reflects today’s income inequality and maldistribution of resources around the world. Just as the American and French fur trappers made pelts out of the animals Native Americans used to support their way of life, corporations and countries in the Western world have robbed the rest of the world of clean air and a stable climate because of their excessive carbon emissions. In “The Revenant,” the chief of the Arikara tribe, Elk Dog, says to a French fur trapper who he does business with: “You all have stolen everything from us. Everything! The land. The animals. Everything!” When I heard this quote in the movie theater, I immediately saw the parallel between 19th-century colonial powers robbing indigenous tribes of their resources, and 21st-century societies polluting the ecosystems of the world’s poorest countries.
Another timeless theme in “The Revenant” is the spirituality of nature and how, like God, his Creation is infinitely greater than we are. In the book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke, he articulates the pastoralism and natural beauty that Iñárritu brings to life on the screen. “His awe of the mountains grew in the days that followed, as the Yellowstone River led him nearer and nearer. Their great mass was a marker, a benchmark fixed against time itself. Others might feel disquiet at the notion of something so much larger than themselves. But for Glass, there was a sense of sacrament that flowed from the mountains like a font, an immortality that made his quotidian pains seem inconsequential.” In a world of technology and concrete jungles, so vastly different from Glass’s lifestyle, we can strive to be like Glass — to be at peace with nature and respect its awe-inspiring scale, knowing that the leaves and rocks around us will long outlive our time on earth.
© Rissponsible Living, 2016