The Revenant is the story of a fur trading frontiersman who gets mauled by a bear while on expedition and is left for dead by his own hunting team. This sample movie review explores the film in detail and analyzes the actors’ performance.
The legend of Hugh Glass
The Revenant is based upon the legend of Hugh Glass, the man who veritably returned from the dead after being mauled by a wild bear in the early 1820s (Kermode). His wounding occurred in the middle of the wilderness with almost no hope of his return.
Three-inch claw-marks in the back of the old trapper on top of a shredded scalp, face, chest, arm, and hand all spelled Glass for dead (Crofut). Despite such expectations, Glass proved himself to be much harder to kill as he endured through not only through the attack but also a panoramic survival odyssey in the American wilderness.
While this is an intriguing story in and of itself, the original story behind the film is one of the earliest known tales of Native Americans in literature. The plot takes on an added degree of intrigue when the fur trapper’s Native American son is killed for defending his father in his ill state by a fellow frontiersman, John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy (The Revenant). The movie begins with an awe-inspiring battle taking place between the expedition crew and the Native Americans who manage to kill a good portion of the pioneers.
The small group of pioneers, led by Glass, narrowly evade the attack by hopping onto a boat as the natives charge after them into the water tossing spears and shooting arrows. Controversies and battles between the settlers and the native peoples are present throughout the movie from this very starting scene right up until the film’s most dramatic of conclusions.
Need another example? Check out this film review on The Human Family Tree.
The American-Indian War and the Revenant
This is an appropriate theme for the Revenant as the American-Indian war was an enduring reality for those who lived in the 19th century, the period in which The Revenant took place. The violence and blood shed between the settlers and indigenous people was, however, a war that had been in effect for some time. The beginning of this war started in about 1622, just 15 years after the first permanent settlers arrived in Virginia, and lasted until 1890, or at least that is the official statement of the Bureau of the Census (Osborn, 2009).
Although violence and abuses have continued between the American settlers and the indigenous people up until the present day, the period of war lasted for more than two and a half centuries. The toll the Indian removal and relocation has taken on the collective American psyche and land is certainly quite enormous and can be seen in films like The Revenant.
In the Revenant, fighting and prejudice between the American forces and the indigenous people constitute major thematic elements which give the film both character and compulsion. Hugh Glass’ person is an intriguing hybrid of American and Indian ideals as he is the father of a child of Indian descent. Furthermore, flashbacks of his stay and guardianship of an American Indian village occur throughout Glass’s euphoric and trance-like foray along the lines of death and life.
Glass’s friendship with Natives
Despite his connection with natives, Glass himself is subject to the ravages of the American-Indian war no less than any other settler. Osborn defines settlers as any colonist, soldiers, militia, government people, farmers, hunters, trappers, merchants, miners, and other American who came into contact with the Indian peoples during the war time (p. 8).
Settlers of all kinds were dragged into the wars just as all of the hundreds of Indian tribes were compelled to fight. Although Glass has a connection to Indian peoples, he does not have the credentials to escape the constant warring that takes place and himself must defend against Indian attacks on more than occasion. His altercations with the Indians make the story dynamic and heart pounding.
The Revenant’s portrayal of settlers’ relationship with Native Americans
Nevertheless, the story told through The Revenant reveals that amidst this fighting there were individuals, like Glass, who carried a more peaceful and humanitarian view of the Indians. Glass clearly demonstrates his warm regard for the American-Indian people in several instances which set him apart from most other settlers. First, there is the son he cares for who is of Indian descent.
Next, he consistently recalls the village of Indian peoples in flashbacks series that indicate he has strong ties to the people and the land they live upon. Next, Glass meets a wandering Indian Sioux man who helps to heal and befriend Glass while he is lost in the wilderness. A most endearing comradery builds between these two characters which viewers of the film may enjoy thoroughly, especially when the two engage in catching snowflakes with their tongues.
Glass’s character type and portrayal of settlers in the Revenant
The Revenant’s portrayal of Hugh Glass maintains an air if historical accuracy but delves into other personality traits not understood in history books. Glass’s character is beyond such measly critiques. His person is mostly defined by his dedication to his self and family, both of which are treated severely by John Fitzgerald. Indeed, Glass is a respectable character audience can deeply appreciate for he lives by the code of the West, Cowboy Ethics. Cowboy Ethics are written about by James Owen as being a four-legged stool which Cowboys ride to ‘win at life’.
As a man who returns from the dead, the definition of a revenant, Glass wins at life in more ways than one. Own describes the cowboy ethic as a philosophy from the olden times that taught success is not about what one achieves but rather how and why someone achieves it. Although Glass’s central accomplishment is revenge, the manner and reason for his quest are what delivers an outstanding film.
Ethics and morality in the Revenant
Glass also is portrayed struggling with ethics and moral judgments. The four-legged stool of Cowboy Ethicality is composed of the quarter’s attitude, integrity, grit, and purpose (Owen 25). Glass displays each of these properties in astounding proportion as he navigates across the American wilderness after Fitzgerald. Attitude is first and foremost seen in the bear mauling Glass narrowly survives.
After seeing a bear meandering through the wilderness, Glass, rather than turning and running away, bravely holds his ground against the bear. Even after being attacked once, Glass manages to shoot and stab the bear he is fighting to the death. Many men would give up as soon as they faced a creature of that size but Glass endured until the grizzly end. The power he projects could only have come from a man of the West who had more than his share of attitude.
Cowboy integrity explained in the film
Glass also possesses a keen sense of integrity which is evidenced upon rescuing a native woman from a band of raping Frenchmen. After being healed partially by the native man, Glass makes his way into a camp where he finds a woman being defiled by an ogre of a man. He immediately intervenes and sets the woman free who in turn takes a slice of revenge for herself out her rapist’s reproductive organs with a stolen knife. Integrity comes from having and keeping consistent values which translate into a kind and effective action. This is what Glass clearly demonstrates in this critical scene.
As for the Grit that Glass possesses, he certainly cannot be denied this attribution considering the phenomenal tribulation and perseverance he demonstrates from start to finish in the movie. Grit is another word for tenacity or moxy, cowboy behaviors that the old-west demanded at every turn where life and death hung in the balance.
Near-death encounter and Glass’s resolve
Lastly, Glass leaves and breathes with incredible purpose. As a man returned from the brink of death, Glass is driven by a force of awe and strength which is quite shocking and impressive. As was previously stated, times in the Old West were difficult for Native Americans and settlers. Law was not enforced by homeland security or a police task force but was the responsibility of men and women who knew that injustice was needing correction. This conviction is what drove Glass to persevere through what can only be described as extreme adversity.
As a man mourning the loss of his son and the betrayal inflicted, Leo does an excellent job in conveying the sense of purpose that a man so wronged would feel through his stellar acting and brutal endurance. Glass’s cowboy ethic and the conflict between the indigenous and settlers are underlying themes that give the story depth and historical accuracy. The fighting between the pioneers and the indigenous population is raw, gory, and nerve-wracking. The psychological animosity expressed by the settlers against the natives is both disturbing and familiar.
Like this film review? Check out our review of Their Eyes Were Watching God for more!
Crofut, Bob. Hugh Glass: The Truth Behind the Revenant Legend. History Net, 2006. Web. Feb. 19, 2016.
Kermode, Mark. The Revenant Review. The Guardian, 2016. Web. Feb. 19, 2016.
Osborn, William. The Wild Frontier: Atrocities During the American-Indian War from Jamestown Colony to Wounded Knee. Random House Publishing Group, 2009. Print.
The Revenant. IMDB, 2015. Web. Feb. 19, 2016.