Bitter Cold

See The Revenant in theaters now.

By Drew C. Miller | Creative Media Director

The Revenant injects frost directly into the marrow and evokes phantom hunger-pangs.Set in the blizzard singed peaks and valleys of 1823 Montana and South Dakota, the film recounts the mostly-true story of quasi-military fur trapper Hugh Glass and his fight for survival in a savage terrain. 

The film serves as an exercise in examining the plight of the human condition in that the story pins the protagonist against the most heinous of all situations to ever present themselves; whether it be the dangers of Mother Nature or Human Nature. The arch of the film is equally gruesome as it is oddly inspiring. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is no stranger to showing the equally dire and abysmal aspects of genuine human suffering, which are displayed in his previous films Amores Perros, Babel, and Biutiful. Despite how harrowing and gut wrenching these films may be, The Revenant ups the ante astronomically. 

Without giving away any spoilers, the movie is a revenge flick laden with the good ol’ American theme of blood, guts, and glory; literally. However this does not mean the film panders to the lowest common denominator. The film peaks as a masterpiece on the highest echelon of technical artistry. 

The cinematography stands far and above any other modern film while retaining the collected lessons taught from master-directors and principal photographers of yesteryear. The constant motion of the camera work may keep the attention of a newer generation of viewers conditioned to hyperactive film editing, yet the seemingly motionless pauses in the film are reminiscent of an Akira Kurosawa film: each frame of celluloid is composed with perfect artistic composition. One could blow up a still-frame and send it as a postcard. The art direction and flow of the film is fluid and does not leave any room for any moment to become superfluous. One interesting facet of this process was the fact that Iñárritu relied soley on natural light to achieve such dramatic compositions; shots that were confined to the lack of daylight hours in the northern hemisphere which compacted the allotted filming time. 

The soundtrack is not of typical sonic-Hollywood fare. The score is haunting and ethereal. Syncopated and spectral strings cry like the disembodied wailing of a tortured soul, deep in an abysmal chasm. The little percussion that does present itself sounds like the beat of a warrior heart in an Earthly limbo; near death but persevering. The diegetic soundscapes allows the audience to experience every break in sinew, the vocal cadence of the elements; ranging from the whisper of a breeze to the howling rage of the wind, all while managing to capture the sound of what it means to be chilled to the bone. 

It is of little shock that actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy are nominated for various accolades and awards pertaining to their performances. DiCaprio’s performance of Hugh paints a brutal portrait of a character in survival mode: Hugh’s rotten body attempts to heal itself while his reanimated corpse searches for revenge in a landscape of elements perpetually pinned against him; bitter cold, bitter foes, bitter circumstances. Hardy effectively plays the non-blinking, emotionally devoid brute we all love to hate, and hate to love. Aside from solid their acting chops, they (as well as the film crew) had to endure the inhospitable terrain and subzero temperatures of a frigid Canadian landscape, virtually untouched by human hands. 

Ultimately, this frozen tale of revenge cuts deep into the psyche and begs to question: to what end of the world would you travel, naked, broken, and dying, in order to find a glimmer of hope? The Revenant on all scales is the embodiment of Pure Cinema.