Leonardo di Caprio does an excellent job in this film, but the real star of the show is the scenery! It’s meant to be the Dakotas, but most of it was filmed in Alberta, and some of it in British Columbia (and a bit of it in Argentina). It is absolutely glorious. It’s a shame that there isn’t an Oscar for best performance by natural scenery! And the way they’ve managed to show the bears, and the caribou, and the other animals, and even the insects … it’s stunning. Absolutely wonderful.
Definitely worth seeing for the scenery! So what about the story? It’s based on a book, by an author called Michael Punke, which in turn is based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a member of an expedition undertaken in 1823 by members of Ashley’s Hundred, later known as the Rocky Mountain Fur Trading Company. The original idea was to travel via the Missouri River, but, following an attack by Native Americans, a group of the men decided that it would be safer to continue overland. Glass was attacked and severely injured by a grizzly bear, and seemed unlikely to survive. General Ashley, the leader of the expedition, didn’t want to abandon him, but, as carrying him was hampering the progress of the rest of the group, asked for two volunteers to stay back with him and take care of him until he died. However, the men concerned, Fitzgerald and Bridger, did abandon him, took his equipment, caught up with the others, and falsely reported that he’d died. Unbelievably, Hugh Glass managed to set his own broken leg, treat his other severe injuries, and make his way more than 200 miles, aided by Native Americans who supplied him with weapons and with a bear hide to wear, to the nearest American settlement.
It’s an amazing story. It’s probably been embellished both at the time and since, but the gist of it does seem to be true. However, what I found a little disappointing was that the book and the film chose to turn it into a tale of revenge. In the film, and presumably the book, that Glass had a son, whom Fitzgerald murdered, and Glass’s motivation for getting back was to track down Fitzgerald and avenge his son’s murder. The film ended with a gunfight in which a third party was killed and Glass left Fitzgerald, half-dead, to be finished off by an approaching band of Native Americans. The novel on which the film’s based is actually called “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge”. In fact, this son never even existed. And, according to the records, Glass did track down the men who’d abandoned him, and forgave Bridger, who’d only really been following orders – but he spared the life of the Fitzgerald because by then he’d joined the Army and the penalty for killing a soldier would have been death. The gunfight never happened, any more than the murder of the non-existent son ever happened.
The film also shows Toussaint Charbonneau, who was a member of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, abducting and raping a Native American woman. Apparently this has caused some upset amongst French-Canadians but, although this particular incident seems to be fictional, it’s known that a similar incident did take place, just at a different time.
To get back to the story of Hugh Glass, what an absolutely amazing story of a man’s triumph over nature. To survive such a vicious attack, and to make his way through the wilderness, in bitter, snowy, wintry conditions, relying only on his own knowledge of the way and the signs provided by nature, hunting for what food he could find … it’s just incredible. And the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. What more of a story, what more of a tale of heroism, could you ask for? So was it really necessary to make it into “A Novel of Revenge”? Surely, it should have been about Man versus Nature, not Man versus Man. Or is it just me? Is it just me?
Oh well. Give Leonardo di Caprio credit for a very impressive performance … and cover your eyes during the bear attack, but keep them wide open during the rest of the film (oh, and be warned that it is rather long), and really, really feast them on that amazing scenery! Glorious, glorious Canada!