Jay: Zohmyfucking god have I ever been waiting a long time to see this movie.
Sean: It’s been a very long wait. This has been one I’ve been looking forward to all year, and the wait has increased my expectations, which were already sky-high!
Jay: The premise of this movie is pretty simple: a bunch of frontiersmen are out in the frigid north, hunting pelts. Native Americans attack. Everyone flees behind Hugh Glass (Leo), The Guy Who Knows The Land. Except Glass gets half-eaten by a bear. So then the men have a difficult choice to make: carry a stretcher over torturous, snowy terrain but retain their navigator (when he’s conscious), or put him out of his misery, lighten their load, but risk getting lost or wandering straight into enemy territory. Glass’s son is understandably on #TeamGlass but John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is more #TeamFuckHim. But don’t underestimate DiCaprio: he’ll get his revenge, even if has to crawl on broken legs and light his own neck on fire to do it.
Sean: I was on my own team: #TeamHolyShitThisIsAwesome! And I was all in.
Jay: This movie is balls-to-the-wall intense. It’s so relentlessly brutal, for more than two and a half hours, that it wasn’t until the 3 hour mark that I began to ask myself if it was good.
Sean: The momentum of The Revenant is absolutely unstoppable. It sweeps you up in its frenzy so that you don’t even get to think “big picture” until it’s over. It’s like a bear attack that way!
Jay: Well I can tell you right now: it’s beautiful. Stupid gorgeous. The vistas that they found in both Alberta and British Columbia are worth the crappy, harsh conditions the crew endured for the shoot. And these sweeping, stunning backdrops are a genius juxtaposition to the utter bleakness that is going on for the characters. It’s like heaven and hell on the screen at the same time.
Sean: I was struck by the beauty of the vistas as well and felt the same way as you did about them. They provide such a wonderful contrast between the bleakness facing Leo in his journey from worse, to even worse, to absolute hell. There was a quiet and peace about the wilderness that restores us, paces us, and upon reflection, ties into Leo’s story more than I realized at first glance. Is this peace and calm perhaps coming from Leo’s soulmate? At any rate, there’s something spiritual about the connection between the land and our protagonist, and I am still trying to unpack all that we saw. It all felt so god damned meaningful and important.
Jay: Whoa. Did you just italicize meaningful and important? This from the guy who dumped on Star Wars but praised Will Farrell’s new movie Daddy’s Home? Anyway. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki decided to shoot this movie entirely in natural light, which sometimes results in a picture dripping in golden sunshine, other times awash in the stark reflection of sun on snow, sometimes just a very small flame casting shadows on Leo’s busted face. It was a bold decision that meant very short shooting days (the sun takes forever to rise and sets so damn early during our Canadian winters) and an extended shooting schedule that forced Tom Hardy to lose out on Suicide Squad, and it caused Inarritu to forfeit film and shoot on digital since the former just couldn’t handle dim lighting. But it was worth it. Lubezki has won back to back Oscars for his work (Gravity, Birdman): can he threepeat? Can he not? This movie’s just soaked in glorious authenticity that made it difficult for me to breathe for 156 long minutes. It’s striking to me how different those three movies are from each other – Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant – and what flexibility and mastery Lubezki must have to have painted each world so beautifully and precisely.
Sean: The differences between this and Birdman were on my mind as well. This is not the movie I expected and it’s a completely different feel than either Gravity or Birdman. It’s night and day. The imagery in all three is incredible and what is most amazing to me is that these are not at all similar – they are each their own masterpiece. Inarritu gives us something new, again, and I wasn’t expecting that he could possibly be capable of that. I may not have connected with Birdman as much as you did, but it was such a unique piece of filmmaking that I did not think Inarritu would be able to come back with something that feels this fresh and unique.
Jay: Well I do remember us fighting about Birdman last year (I guess Star Wars is this year’s Birdman) but at any rate I’m glad we both fell in love with this one. It’s so awkward when we don’t.
Inarritu’s direction is amazing. From the very first attack scene (that makes the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan feel like a pillow fight), the camera swirls around the way a panicked eye would, taking in surroundings choppily, and a little too quickly. It ratchets up the anxiety in us: where is the danger? Where’s in coming from? Where is safety? Where is the enemy? How do we get out? The wide lenses make this shit immersive, so like it or not, you’re getting dragged into the fray (and thank you, Inarritu, for not making me wear 3D glasses to get this effect). But the camera can also be quite intimate: sometimes just Leo’s anguished face, the hand-held camera so close it gets condensation from his breath. But it’s this intimacy which also makes the movie’s craziest scene, the bear attack, its most interesting, and its most ballsy. Our mind knows we should never be this close to a bear, and definitely not a bear as angry as this one. We see Leo’s blood on her teeth and how many inches of claw get sunk into his flesh.
Both of them are sweating. The three of us are sweating! It’s the most brutal thing, unrelenting thing I’ve seen in a long time and I couldn’t look away (warning: the audio alone is nightmare-inducing).
Sean: When we are dragged into this world, we see and feel the terror that the characters are dealing with. The Revenant is such a visceral experience from beginning to end. The camera work sucks the viewer in so much I was short of breath at times. The bear attack in particular is just spectacular in its intimacy. You are right there with Leo, you are shouting at him to stay down. Literally, Jay, you were shouting! And how could you not when it feels so real?
Jay: Yes, I was shouting. Sorry, Ottawa. But seriously, Leo should learn to take my advice. Remember that, Sean: I was right. But let’s talk about what really matters: will Cinderella finally find her glass slipper? Leo’s been invited to the ball 5 times, but has never taken home a statue come Oscar night. Will this finally be his year? Leo’s as ferocious as the bear, and maybe more so, in this role. He’s committed, and you can see it in his darting bloodshot eyes and his flaking, chapped lips. I can’t shut out Tom Hardy, because he’s stellar also; reunited again since appearing in Inception, Leo begged and convinced Hardy to take the role and though they may be friends and respect each other as colleagues in real life, in this movie there is a fascinating hatred between them that reminded me of Leo and Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Hardy looks dodgy and cornered every bit of the way. But this is undeniably Leo’s film – it’s his bloody trail we’re following. Since he takes a bear to the throat early on in the film, a good portion of the film is nearly dialogue-free, just grunts and bellows and silent agony. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before from him (and I’m not even talking about the bear rape rumour). If he gets the Oscar, it won’t be a “sorry we missed you last time” make-up award, it’ll be legit. He’s earning it on every frame.
Sean: Leo has to get the Oscar. HAS TO. He’s masterful. He doesn’t even need words here. Tom Hardy better be nominated for supporting actor as well. Give him something! He’s had an incredible year and he’s another guy who is so versatile, so absorbed in this role that I would not have recognized him unless I was looking for him. He’s a force of nature in this movie. Both of them are and the anticipation of their final showdown builds to a point where it can’t possibly live up to what you are expecting, and then it does!
Jay: Did I love this movie? Yes I did. Did I nearly die from a heart attack watching it? Yes I did. Is it perfect? No it is not.
Sean: The Revenant isn’t perfect but it’s so forceful and committed, I didn’t care. I still don’t. It exceeded my expectations, I loved every minute and I’m still trying to digest it all. It’s such a tough movie to take but I think that’s what I liked best about it.
Jay: You interrupted me, dear. I wasn’t finished. I think the problem that I had with the movie is that it was straight revenge saga. And I get that this is the wild, wild west where punishment is doled out swiftly, savagely, without the law or due process. But Glass was a husband and a father and something of maverick. Was there really nothing to him but revenge lust? Actually, Inarritu’s attempt at spirituality, if I may call it that, with the ghostly visitations and whatnot, was my least favourite part. The movie is so grounded and real that those apparitions felt jarring and unnecessary.
But that’s in retrospect. And you’ll need retrospect up the wazoo in order to come to terms with the movie. While watching, you’re just holding on for dear life, and all that desperate grasping for survival on-screen makes your life seem all the more dear when it’s over.
“Pew, made it!” I said as the credits rolled.
“Who did?” Sean asked.
“I did!” I said. Yes, I did.