Shaggy Bear Story


The Revenant

To the Vue in Camberley to see the film that has 12 Oscar nominations, the Revenant, starring Leonardo di Caprio. I will never again moan about having a bad day at the office. Nothing can remotely compare with what di Caprio’s character, Hugh Glass endured – a savage mauling by a bear, being left for dead, plunging down a waterfall and plunging down a ravine on a horse are just a few of the trials and tribulations that he had to endure.

There is a historical basis to this film. Hugh Glass whilst scouting for game in what is now Perkins County in South Dakota was attacked by a grizzly bear in 1823. Despite managing to kill the bear he was left for dead by his companions. Glass regained consciousness and managed to set his own broken leg and to prevent the onset of gangrene laid his back on a rotten log filled with maggots, letting them eat the rotten flesh. They left the healthy flesh alone.

According to the contemporary records – he was illiterate so was unable to leave his own written account – Glass crawled his way to the nearest American settlement, Fort Kiora, some 200 miles away, living on wild berries and roots and the occasional scavenged piece of meat. He magnanimously spared the two companions who deserted him and died some 10 years after his ordeal, in an attack by Arikara in Yellowstone.

Inevitably, the film plays fast and loose with Glass’ story. There is no evidence that he had a child, let alone with a Pawnee woman. The film transports the action from South Dakota to the more photogenic British Columbia and moves his trek from August to October to deepest winter. And the main storyline is about revenge and retribution; tracking down and giving Fitzgerald his just deserts.

As a film it is stunning, beautifully shot with glorious scenery which makes up for a story that moves at a glacial pace. The warmth of human breath misting up the camera lens is a nice touch to emphasise the coldness of the weather, if you hadn’t worked it out for yourself from the incessant snowfalls and permafrost. The music is sparse and suitably atmospheric – a single drum beat stokes up the tension. On the other hand, there are more grunts and groans in the soundtrack than you would expect to hear in a third-rate porno movie. And the shift in seasons and the problems that Glass faces and overcomes make it harder to believe that he came through alive, never mind in some sort of shape to conduct his campaign of revenge.

And then there is the fight with the bear. It is truly frightening and graphic in its detail but ends with a moment of comedy as the bear flops like a fur overthrow on top of the poor lacerated Glass. Di Caprio plays his part well and it is hard to think what he has to do to win an Oscar if he doesn’t get one here. Tom Hardy also gives an impressive performance as the racist, baddie, Fitzgerald who kills Glass’ son and abandons the film’s hero.

But my fundamental problem with the film, despite its dazzling technical accomplishments, was that it was difficult to feel empathy with Glass. It was too much of a shaggy bear story to be believable.