A tale of survival and revenge, not a story of survival and revenge.
Brilliant filmmaking with an almost-story, The Revenant is a gritty experience of one man's will to survive--and seek revenge. The last point is important as it does seem the Author's intent is to say something deeply meaningful about revenge and leaving judgment up to the rushing waters of God. Unfortunately the narrative supporting that notion lacks certain key elements resulting in the argument proving that meaning less persuasive as it could have been.
Hugh Glass (Leonardo diCaprio) is driven by the will to survive and gives us a firsthand experience of what it's like to put off one's own death (Main Character Problem of Pursuit, Main Character Issue of Delay). Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) gives us the alternative perspective with his no-frills frontier attitude of doing what is prudent and reasonable (Obstacle Character Drive of Logic and Obstacle Character Domain of Mind). And the Objective Story of selling pelts, stealing pelts, killing natives, raping natives, and exacting revenge all cover the third Throughline neatly (Objective Story Throughline of Activity, Objective Story Concern of Obtaining).
But it is the fourth Throughline--the Relationship between the Main and Obstacle Character--that goes unaccounted for. Sure, there is the potential in Glass and Fitzgerald's first scenes together and yes, they do conclude it nicely--but the in-between parts--that's where the hole in the argument is found.
This missing part also explains why the film lacks a certain amount of heart. All the grit and struggle and determination is captivating and masterful--but without the heart, it tends to get a bit monotonous in the middle. There are attempts to alleviate this with Glass' dreams of his wife and of ruined churches and piles of skulls. And these work quite nicely to supply that Relationship Story Problem of Conscience that a complete argument would require. But without their anchor in a relationship between Fitzgerald and Glass, these scenes ultimately end up far less effective than they need to be.
It is nice that Fitzgerald offers up that Relationship Story Solution of Temptation during their final battle--and almost fulfilling when Glass both Avoids killing and leaving revenge up to God (Main Character Solution of Avoid and Relationship Story Problem of Conscience). But it feels like overhearing the end of a debate or an argument when you haven't heard the two hours of back and forth that came before. It is the right conclusion for the dramatics put in place, but unfortunately lands weaker due to the argument's underdeveloped nature.
Make no mistake--The Revenant is a film you won't want to miss and one that will definitely earn several Oscars this year. However, if you're looking for a satisfying and emotionally fulfilling story you might leave the theater feeling a bit cheated. This is a tale of survival and revenge, not a story of survival and revenge.
The presence of a solid storyform usually predicts whether or not an Audience member will want to see a movie again; the idea resting in the notion that stories offer us an insight into problem solving we can't find in real life. The Revenant is that rare beast that transcends story to offer an experience unlike any other. Even a site "where story is king" appreciates and applauds this monumental effort.
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