3 Stars – Challenging
Survival on the frontier in 1820 was like a roll of the dice. In any given moment, life could either get better or you could lose it all. Such is the life of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a skilled trapper and woodsman with a trusted sense of knowing both the rewards and the dangers of the woods. As a scout for a fur-trading expedition in the Canadian territory, Glass and his team are anything but educated or refined.
By the beginning of the 19th century, the wild territories of the northern hemisphere were still empty and often bitter places with little protection except for an occasional fort inhabited by only a handful of soldiers attempting to protect the Canadian and American fur-trappers. The native people of the region were no longer accommodating to these European intruders. Their blessed land and its animals were not sacred to these newcomers and, in fact, were only seen as a means to get rich. The tension between these two groups was growing into violent anger.
Hugh Glass was highly respected by the fur-trading companies because of his skill. On the other hand, the rag-tag band of hunters sent out to gather and trap the animals often showed their prejudice when they realized that Glass had not only married a native woman but had a son with her named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), who accompanied him on his journeys. One trapper, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), continually aggravated Glass with his demeaning references to his half-breed offspring.
Revenant begins with a vicious attack by a native band of Indians that is looking for a woman who has been abducted by American trappers. In a counter attack, many of the trappers were either killed or scattered into the woods. The pivotal turning point in the story occurs when Glass is horribly mauled by a bear while trying to find a way out of the woods to safety. When he is found, he is near death and the ensuing battle regarding what to do with Glass in his condition leads to an outcome that leaves Glass left for dead and his son murdered. When John Fitzgerald eventually returns to the safety of the Fort, he reports that Glass had died and was buried in the woods.
The central theme of this film focuses on what happens next. Glass, who now emerges as the revenant (one that returns after death), manages to dig himself from the shallow grave in which he was placed. Having witnessed the horror of his son being murdered, he spends the rest of the story seeking to survive long enough to extract revenge, a task that seems near impossible given his mangled condition.
We won’t spoil the film by telling you the details of his exhausting escape, but it is fair to say that Glass and Fitzgerald do come to a point of confrontation. What Glass eventually chooses to do is the heart of the moral challenge within the tale.
From the first European settlers who arrived in the New World in the 17th century up to our current time, this country has been inhabited by people with two distinctly different world views. One group is seeking to build a better life based on communitarian values and the other group, often described as rugged individualists, see this as the land of personal opportunity. Both face hardships and injustice, and both have to make moral choices. That dilemma confronted Hugh Glass and it still confronts us today. This film is not for the faint of heart, but it will challenge you as you experience a remarkably harsh time in our history.
- If you were to place yourself in one group of the other, which would it be: communitarian values or rugged individualist? How is this choice impacting your life?
- The drive for revenge is one of the most common in all literature and film. Why do you think this is so? How do you deal with the injustice done to you?
- Racial prejudice comes from an evil deep within. How do you fight that evil?