No, Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t raped by a bear while shooting “The Revenant.” Contrary to Internet rumor, it happened neither on the screen or off. What does happen on screen is a mauling by a grizzly bear that is as full of terror and horror as anything like it we’re ever apt to see.
We know all about movie magic. Those are not wounds and scars all over DiCaprio’s body for most of the movie. That’s the genius of movie makeup. And, no, he wasn’t really mauled by a grizzly bear, no matter how horrifying and convincing the scene. Special effects rule; we know full well what modern film computer imagery can do. If you can imagine it, you can show it on screen. The mauling is both brilliantly imagined and presented by director Alejandro G. Inarritu, who won the Oscar last year for “Birdman.” We’re told that wires attached to DiCaprio were involved – and so were injuries to DiCaprio from their off-screen yanking.
The dirt that cakes DiCaprio’s teeth – after he has apparently eaten a few pecks of it – may be chocolate or coffee for all we know. More movie illusion, to be sure.
Nevertheless, my serious advice is this: Do not begrudge DiCaprio any nomination for post-season golden statuary for what you see in “The Revenant.” The movie took seven months to film and there are stories that at times the temperatures during the shooting in Alberta, Canada, hit 40-below. Whatever supposedly raw wildlife DiCaprio’s character is eating to survive in the arduous struggle to ultimately prevail, you know bloody well it wasn’t anything you’re going to want for dinner tonight. Trying to run in wet fur couldn’t have been fun, either.
Actors know what other actors go through to get movies made, and there was no way in 2015 that DiCaprio’s fellow actors were going to skimp on any best actor nominations for what DiCaprio had to go through while emoting in “The Revenant.”
There are amazing things in this bloodbath of a film – gorgeous frozen vistas by Inarritu and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki (who achieved those apparently unbroken shots in Inarritu’s “Birdman”). One shot shown in the TV commercial that you’ve been seeing is primal cinema and seemingly impossible: when a horse and rider seem to gallop unwittingly off a steep cliff onto the tops of trees below.
Let’s admit that “The Revenant” is full of the kind of visual wonderments that are absolutely basic to what movies are supposed to be about – beautiful moments, harrowing moments when the pit of your stomach falls to the theater floor.
Along with them is a flood of blood and brutality in the snow. And the movie does go on and on – for a full 156 minutes, only 12 minutes shorter than Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” But it’s crucial to note that no matter how attenuated and brutal “The Revenant” gets – which is a lot – it is never gratuitous and contemptuous sadistic rubbish, which Tarantino’s film most definitely is.
This is the second try at making a variation on what does seem a great American real-life yarn – the horrible survival ordeal and revenge saga of Hugh Glass, a real fur trapper in the early 19th century who was mauled by a bear, left for dead by his friends, and forced to attempt survival and vengeance under impossible odds.
The most important thing to know is this: Inarritu’s initial tale of survival is so much more gripping than his final tale of revenge that it almost seems to come, in its deepest parts, from another film.
One minute Glass/DiCaprio is telling us that all that matters is that he “keep breathing.” The next he must avenge the death of his son (a “half-breed” in ancient crude Western film vocabulary) and his abandonment to what seemed a sure death.
Revenge has been such a standard theme of our Westerns that it’s easy to take the second half of “The Revenant” for granted. Revenge was the cornerstone of the careers of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson. After “The Searchers,” “The Bravados,” “One-Eyed Jacks” and “Hannie Caulder” – and so many other films – it’s hard not to think of the plot as last night’s leftovers.
The leader of those in the film who abandon Glass is played by Tom Hardy, a sometimes extraordinary actor who is almost completely incoherent in this film. Try to take a lip-reader with you to this movie – and a linguist, too. See if you can figure out what Hardy is saying in half his dialogue. I have no idea what Hardy thought he was doing, but I don’t think he’d have gotten away with it if his director had been a man for whom English was a first language.
Some of the nature photography here is as stunning as what you’d see in a film by Terrence Malick. But it surrounds pitiless brutality and savagery from a director determined to rub our noses in the worst of Western survival in the early 19th century.
This is the second time the movies have told Glass’ story. The first was in 1971’s “Man in the Wilderness,” directed by Richard C. Sarafian, starring Richard Harris and co-starring John Huston.
Inarritu is, as Sergio Leone once did, reinventing American Westerns through foreign eyes. His movie can be arresting.
But it’s ultimately too much – too much snow, too much blood, too much suffering, too much vengeance – all spread out over 156 minutes of screen time. With Leone we were so puzzled, we were dazzled. In “The Revenant,” we’re amazed by the film and, by the end, bored.
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Lukas Haas.
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Running time: 156 minutes
Rating: R for much blood, gore, brutality, brief sex and nudity and a terrifying grizzly bear attack.
The Lowdown: Scout for Western fur trappers struggles for life and revenge after being mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his friends.