Let’s just start off right away by saying: The Revenant is probably a thing you would call a “good movie.” It is breathtakingly beautiful, as you would expect from Alejandro Inarritu’s giant-budget Birdman follow-up. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar thirst is palpable by this point, so you’d better believe that if he’s going to spend nearly three hours making “OSCAR PLEASE” grabby hands at you, it will be affecting. (Although if any actor wins the award for this, my money is on Tom Hardy’s accent work.) This is, without a doubt, a movie that was made to be big and grand and win awards, and the best thing about it is that it’s actually interesting and engaging, and not the usual flat, bland Oscar season biopic fodder.
Yet at the same time, this really isn’t a “movie” at all. Sure, it’s a thing that you are meant to go and sit and watch, much like a movie would be. But really, The Revenant isn’t a film. It’s meant to be an experience. This thing is meant to exhaust you, to make you feel like you’ve been through an ordeal. It wants you to leave feeling not like you’ve watched a movie about a bunch of Men surviving the early American frontier, but to leave convinced that in a past life YOU were a Man who fought bears and fathered Native American sons and survived against all odds. This movie is the equivalent of the guy who has never been on a hike longer than a mile, but shops exclusively at LL Bean and sells himself as an “outdoorsman” in his Tinder profile, not because he’s lying, but because that’s what he’s convinced himself he is. Watching this movie is meant to be the cinematic version of the City Slickers dude ranch, where you pay your $15, sit in a comfy chair in the dark, and three hours later, Curly Inarritu has turned you into a Man and taught you how to birth a calf. (Or, in this case, how to sleep inside a dead horse for warmth. See? You’re a Man now!)
This is a movie (and yes, I know I said it wasn’t a movie, but whatever, no time to come up with new words— we have MAN THINGS to do) that is destined to be a THING. You will meet people (and by people I definitely mean dudes) a year or five from now who state that this is their favorite movie. Run away from those people. This is one that is fine to like, because, again, it is a Good Movie. But it was made to be a certain type of person’s Favorite movie, and that person’s favorite writer is probably Hemingway, and their favorite office character is Ryan, and they may or may not secretly or publicly have a well-planned-out devil’s advocate defense of Martin Shkreli. The person for whom this movie was made LOVES playing devil’s advocate. This was meant to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s favorite movie. This could easily have been a fictional movie in a future season of Entourage— a passion project that Vince struggles through and makes him a stronger Man. This is less a movie than a type of movie made for a type of person. The words “Executive Producer Brett Ratner” are really the only description you need.
Are you starting to wonder if I’m ever going to get to that typical part of the review where I talk about the plot? Well the plot doesn’t f*cking matter. Sure, there is one. Leonardo DiCaprio is real-life 1800s frontiersman Hugh Glass, who fights a bear and wins but barely, and is left for dead—but DOESN’T die because he’s a REAL MAN— by his friend Tom Hardy. It’s a revenge tale in a historically unforgiving time and place. It’s Braveheart for a generation of frat boys and Bret Easton Ellis fans who think Braveheart is for pussies. The stories of the actors’ physical struggles and actual fistfights during filming are as important to the movie as the movie itself because they are part of the experience.
This is one of those movies that, no matter how much you love it, you will rarely rewatch it, because it requires a very specific “right mood.” And I fully admit that the way I watched it— as a screener on my sofa with a cat in my lap and some mulled wine on Christmas afternoon— was wrong. Straight up wrong. Are you able to watch this movie while eating a steak from a bison you killed yourself? Did you build your own canoe and travel to a remote Scottish Isle to retrieve a rare small batch whiskey made entirely of smoke and testosterone? Has Wild Bill Hickok been visiting you in fever dreams and giving you life advice about short selling on the stock market? Well, gather all those things together— bison steak, smoke fire whiskey, and Wall Street Hickok — and sit down in a fire pit dug by some native tribe that didn’t believe in women or feelings or recycling or any of that pansy nonsense. Only then will you be ready for and worthy of the EXPERIENCE of watching The Revenant.