I went to see the Revenant last night for a second time. A few friends who hadn't seen it wanted to go and I enjoyed it enough the first time to see i another time, the gorgeous cinematography certainly warranted another viewing in a theater.
Second time around, I paid a lot more attention to the theme of death and rebirth in the movie. There is a real beauty to the way that every time the unstoppable Hugh Glass "dies' he re-emerges from something as if being born again, sometimes totally naked and out of a biological organism, such as the horse he sleeps in for warmth after a fall over a cliff. This is repeated in a hut built by a Pawnee man he meets and earliest when he digs himself out of his own shallow grave.
Each time Glass is reborn he's stronger, but less human. Revenge becomes his sole purpose for surviving, his son having been taken needlessly.
The idea of who's good and bad in this film is very black and white, the characters don't have a lot of depth, functioning more as living ideas of intangible concepts. Fitzgerald is greed and apathy towards life personified, Leo's wife and child were all that is good in the world, taken away. Glass functions not quite as good or evil, but a force of nature, fueled by rage.
If I have a problem with this film it's that the only female character exists solely to be kidnapped and raped. I understand this from a narrative viewpoint, and she gets her revenge s well, but I like to imagine we can do a little better with female characters. Obviously there aren't going to be a lot of women in the fur trapping camp, but some of the native American females could have been given some depth. The only other woman in the movie I recall is a survivor of a pillaging that gets thrown a little bit of food by the sympathetic young man passing through.
Knowing that the real life Hugh Glass did not have a son is an interesting thought narratively. A lot of weight is given to Glass's back story as an outsider that made a life of peace with a native American family, creating an emotional resonance to his anger for the audience. In reality, he was pissed that Fitzgerald left him to die, which is a pretty legitimate reason to want revenge, however lacking in altruism and familial bonds. The son was a nice addition to give some humanity to a cold revenge story.
The Revenant presents a Herzog like view of the brutality of nature. The viewer can't help but realize that the typical living human today wouldn't last a few days in the conditions that Glass drudges through. The environment looks huge, and it is, the panoramic cinematography of the legendary Emanuel Lubezki places the viewer in the wilderness, the mountains and valleys so enormous that we feel like dwarves in our seats. This is balanced by an aggressively intimate shooting style during violent scenes. Blood literally splatters onto the camera lens in a visceral shock, creating a phantom twinge of pain. I swear the theater got colder when Glass was wet and freezing in the snow. Iñarritu's signature long fluid moving shots bring the viewer into the frame, creating the illusion that you're the one looking around, moving your eyes back and forth between Glass and his dead son in desperation. Big events for humans in the film are often preceeded by images of pure nature; elk crossing a river or wolves attacking buffalo give light foreshadowing to what happens next in the world of men.