09 March 2016

"The Revenant"

I saw the third of the films nominated for Best Picture last night. (You can read my thoughts about "Spotlight" here and "Room" here.)  "The Revenant" was my least favorite. As many have noted, the cinematography of "The Revenant" is outstanding and the physical trials of actor Leonardo DiCaprio rightly earned him the Best Actor award. Yet the treatment of the film's theme--the unsatisfying nature of revenge--could easily be lost.

Spoiler alert. What follows includes some plot details.

One could have characterized "The Revenant" is an exceptionally well-filmed story of the motivating power of the desire for revenge. After all, it is revenge that drives DiCaprio's character Hugh Glass to figuratively raise himself from the dead and pursue the man who had killed Glass's son. Battling snow, freezing rain, icy rivers, French fur traders, and a band of Ree searching for their chief's daughter (who had been kidnapped by the French traders, and who Glass helped free)--all the while recuperating from an attack by a grizzly--Glass made it back to Fort Kiowa. When his son's murderer, John Fitzgerald, slips out, Glass continued the pursuit to the death.

Yet Fitzgerald's death did not come at Glass's hand. At the last moment Glass recalls an earlier conversation with a lone Pawnee whose family had been killed by the French who remarked, "My heart bleeds. But revenge is in the Creator's hands." Glass repeats the line (substituting "God" for "the Creator") and lets the mortally wounded Fitzgerald slip away only to see him drowned moments later by the band of Ree that had by then found the chief's daughter.

"The Revenant" portrays natural religion at its best. The desire for revenge is real and, indeed, the near-appropriate response to a grievous wrong. Yet even where the appropriate pursuit of the correct remedy--humanly-administered justice--proves unattainable, natural religion "knows" that divine justice remains. Revealed religion knows this as well (here).

Unfortunately, however, this deep moral truth is likely lost on the majority of the watchers of "The Revenant." I fear that the unrelenting hours-long focus on Glass's incredible feats of survival will drown out the nugget of truth ultimately revealed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Professor. I'm a law student in India, and I enjoy your blog.

    I had similar thoughts on "The Revenant", which I wrote about on my blog here:


    (Would have preferred making my first comment on one of your posts on law, but well.)