The Revenant provides an extraordinary example of the choices we are given when unjustly dealt by another.
“While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains life-threatening injuries from a brutal bear attack. When a member (Tom Hardy) of his hunting team kills his young son (Forrest Goodluck) and leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back to civilization. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, the legendary fur trapper treks through the snowy terrain to track down the man who betrayed him.” – Synopsis courtesy of Tribune Media Service and the Rochester City Newspaper
LOSS AND THE DRIVING PURSUIT OF RETRIBUTION
Before the journey begins, Hugh Glass loses everything in his life at the hands of other men. Glass is a man hardened by the harsh realities of his profession (the fur trade), and the death of his Pawnee wife. After her death, Glass tells Hawk, “It’s okay son. I know you want this to be over. I’m right here. I will be right here. But you don’t give up. You hear me? As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing.”
At the beginning of The Revenant, Glass leads a fur trade company through Arikara territory. While encamped, the Arikara warriors attack the company. Most are killed, and the men who survive are set on a journey of survival.
While scouting, a grizzly bear badly injures Glass, and in return kills the massive bear with a knife. After the majority of the men journey forward leaving Glass to die, Fitzgerald takes the last good thing in Glass’s life by killing his son, Hawk. Glass in devastation turns his heart towards vengeance becoming the sole purpose for his existence. Glass and Fitzgerald’s choices set the story on a path perpetuating the cycle of pain and death.
THE DETERIORATION OF FAITH
Throughout the film, we are given subtle hints of the reverence and deterioration of Glass’s faith. While sleeping, Glass envisions a torn down church, perhaps representing the devastation and destruction of his faith. He also meets his dead son, holding on to a clinging belief of an afterlife and a chance of reconciliation with his family.
Meanwhile, the Arikara continue to pursue the men who kidnapped the chief’s daughter. Through the Arikara’s alliance with the French fur traders, they receive bad intel that the Americans kidnapped her, when in fact the French took her hostage as a sex slave. Seeking his daughter, the Arikara Chief leads his warriors in pursuit of Glass and the American fur traders.
With the Arikara bearing down upon Glass, his will to survive and killing Fitzgerald leads him to display staggering survival instincts: swimming through a nearly freezing river, riding a horse off a cliff, and sleeping in a dead horse. Glass’s deterioration of faith leaves him with only the sheer determination of vengeance.
A PAWNEE REFLECTION
After Glass escapes the Arikara, he meets Hikuc, a Pawnee refugee and seemingly Christ figure. Hikuc provides food and shelter for Glass creating an enclosure that helps heal and restore Glass’s broken body. While eating with Hikuc, the Pawnee shares, “Sioux killed my people…My heart bleeds. But revenge is in the creator’s hands.” Hikuc becomes a mirror for Glass, and reveals a different path than the one Glass walks alone. The Pawnee suffers, and rejects his right to violence, suggesting violence only begets more violence. When Glass awakes, Hikuc has been killed and hung up—Hikuc’s prophecy fulfilled.
After further journeying through the harsh lands of uncharted wilderness, Glass arrives at the fort. Fitzgerald has fled. Glass and Captain Andrew Henry, the fur company owner, pursue. Henry killed soon after, Glass and Fitzgerald finally face off, and a bloody knife duel ensues. In the final moments of the struggle, Glass gains the upper hand; holding Fitzgerald he has the opportune moment which drove him through the brutality of winter. But, at that moment comes the full redemption of Glass. A man of deteriorated faith and full of hatred and vengeance becomes a man reciting the words of Hikuc—“revenge is in God’s hands.” He releases Fitzgerald into the river, floating down to the Arikara.
The journey of grief and redemption which Glass endures brings him to a place, not of wholeness, but of peace. In the final moments of the film, Glass looks into the camera as if to ask: What will we do when the choice of repeating the cycles of destruction is set before us?
“When there is a storm, and you stand in front of a tree, if you look at its branches, you swear it will fall, but if you watch the trunk, you will see it’s stability.” —Glass’s Pawnee Wife
For more meaningful film analysis by Tyler Sutton, read his review of Ridley Scott’s film Kingdom of Heaven.
Featured Photo: Hollywood Reporter