My $.02 on the movie “The Revenant”

Friday afternoon, the grandmother unit of our marriage and I had a hot date to go see a movie after doing a little shopping for her. We were having a great day together. So we enjoyed a movie together. Having heard some positive about “The Revenant” and seeing all the nominations it received especially for the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, we decided we wanted to see it. And I do not think we were disappointed in the action. There really was not a lot of dialogue – definitely not a chick flick – nor was there a love story.

This was high action that had me squirming in my seat to jump in on the fights! Somebody help the guy! The scenery was wonderful! I love mountainous regions of the USA which I have visited and would love to live in when the snow is not deep (can you say “summer home?” But that is only daydreaming.) The rugged, desolate mountain country is very beautiful in my opinion.  The filming was done, as I understand it, in Alberta and British Columbia in very remote regions. The ending had to be filmed in southern Argentina because of needing snow when it was too warm in Canada. There is no computer generation – it is really there! Beautiful country no matter where the scene was shot and the forlornness added immensely to the story line. The video and editing work was smooth without detraction.  The scenery was very believable.

The dialogue – simple and rough as you would expect of life on the frontier. I do have to wonder about the historical correctness of the dialogue. It really seemed to be heavily influenced by modern language and sentence structure. Yes – the trappers were simple people, but they lived in a different time of civilization. I think the story obviously took license in trying to paint it believable for todays hardened audience. As for the language which was used, I have no clue – it sounded like French when the French Canadian trappers were speaking. I have no idea about the Native American languages which were supposedly spoken by the Arikaras or Pawnee. The Arikara were also call the Ree, as in the movie, by the Spanish.

The props for the movie were wildly wonderful. As a history buff and light-weight reenactor, I reveled in their dress, accoutrements, and authenticity of equipment used. From the moccasins, to the leggings, headwear, shirts, jackets, capotes, powder horns… Let’s just say it was really good! And just as I thought it should. Although cap locks were making inroads, the frontier use in this time was mainly flintlocks on the firearms. Some of the rifles looked like the Plains Rifles which had the short fore stock unlike the Kentucky and Pennsylvania firearms. No doubt there were some “Trade Rifles” in their midst, but I could not find any example of the short stock rifle shown in the movie.  Those were popularized as the “plains rifle” which came into its own after the years depicted in the movie. The Hawkins brothers made them popular with their refined craftsmanship in St Louis in the mid to late 1820’s. And those really were only a very few and were rather expensive compared to trade rifle. Small detail. And their research may have shown a more widespread use of that short stock than my limited knowledge and research.

The acting was very good. I can understand why the protagonist and antagonist in this movie have been nominated for Oscars. The portrayal of John Fitzgerald by Tom Hardy as the villain was most convincing – you really wanted to see him get his “come-up-ance” for his nasty, mean, and wicked disposition. Leonardo DiCaprio as the hero of the story – amazing. He made this role lifelike. I think it would have been even more amazing if the original story had been follow in how that he had to set his own broken leg, allowed maggots to debride the open, rotting wounds on his back – but I had no input so the movie attained success without my consultation.

If you do not like spoilers and plan on to see the movie, I would not read past this. But, what I cover is the plot versus the legend and a real serious beef I have with the story.

The storyline is actually only similar to the actual story. In the real story, Glass has no family, but he may have actually at one time had a Pawnee wife. He was none the less seriously mauled by a grizzly which were rather populous along the Missouri River in that region. Fitzgerald and Bridger had left Glass behind fully expecting him to die, but he did not. Real story has it that he crawled off after setting his own leg, scared a couple wolves off a fresh buffalo calf kill, got some help from some friendly natives, and rode a crude raft to Fort Kiowa on the lower Missouri River, some 200 miles away.  His picture should be found in Webster’s Dictionary next to the entry for “man” because he was the real thing! After recovering a few months, he set off on tracking down Bridger and Fitzgerald. When he caught up with Bridger, he forgave him because of his youth. Fitz joined the Army and when Glass caught up with him, he could not kill him due to the penalty for killing a soldier. They had a reunion, but details are not certain. Glass got his rifle back from Fitzgerald – a treasured German made gun. They both lived. Later, in the 1833, Hugh Glass was with another group of trappers who came across some Arikaras who were hostile and he did not survive that encounter. Legend has it that some of his friends came across a group of Indians who tied to appear they were not Arikaras – but one was carrying Glass’s rifle. Upon investigation, it was discovered they were Arikara and were killed for having part in Glass’s death. Yep. He was one real man and I do respect him.

Do I have a problem with the license taken by the writers in this story? Not at all. They admit it is only loosely based on the real story. I have not even read the book this comes from. I think the subplots and alterations from the legend were very interesting and did not take away from enjoying the movie. It really did carry a great point in that revenge is not all it is imagined to be by those who seek it. Even after fatally wounding Fitzgerald, Glass could not bring himself to finish the job.  However, I have a hard time understanding some of the subplots finding their way into this particular movie.

The relationship with his Pawnee family was indeed a sad one in its culmination. But, here is one of my beefs (not beeves – tis ain’t cattle!) I personally cannot recall from my reading (I am a very minor league history buff) an event when the Army assaulted a Pawnee village in the Missouri River area and slaughtered the villagers in a “Wounded Knee” type of massacre. Did this type of thing occur? More than you really want to know throughout the frontier by both Indian tribes and those who ventured into the fringes of their territory. It was not uncommon in the warfare between Native Americans and then when the European settlers moved into their area it was reciprocated. Resentment, hatred, and misunderstanding proliferated. In contrast, when Lewis & Clark ventured into the area, they tried to develop good relations with the Native Americans. This was continued to an extent, especially by the trappers and traders since they wanted safety and profit. Problems usually occurred when they had to side with their local group against an enemy tribe. Once an enemy, it is hard to make peace. Even Lewis & Clark had to deal with hostile groups whom they had given no personal reason for enmity other than passing through the area they claimed – and only few non-natives had been through the area. The Pawnee were even known to be friendly to the white men and sided with them in the Indian Wars to serve as scouts. My point is that the loss of the protagonist’s wife through a military attack to the village is a bit far-fetched and “uncalled-for.” Was this an attempt at making the viewers feel bad, building an emotional attachment to Hugh Glass? In my opinion this was a poor tool for that. Could have done without it. Besides, if you are going to do a historical story, get context right.

Another beef I have involves the French Canadians taking of the Arikara (Ree) woman. The French Canadians did venture into Missouri Valley from time to time, and many lived and worked there. Their influence is evident today. One of these, Toussaint Charbonneau, acted as a guide for Lewis & Clark, but his value was likely in that he brought along that his wife was “Bird Woman” or as they called her, Secajawea. That they could have been involved in a situation like depicted in this movie I personally doubt. Were there renegade bands of traders running around? No doubt, but again to have done like this group did would have been very foolish and would have been seriously foolish. At the time, white traders were seriously a minority in the region and were in danger without stirring up the natives. There was some competition from Canada, but the British government nor the controlling company that traded in the area, the Hudson Bay Company, did not tolerate such activity as exhibited in this movie. There were horrible instances that occurred. But the kind of activity depicted in the movie actually predated the 1820’s. It was not uncommon when the British and French fought over North America and then during the American Revolution when the British stirred up the Native Americans. This plot tool was totally out of place. Again, if you are going to do a historical type movie, get it right.

Without a doubt, the biggest problem I have with the film does not really relate or place well within the film is the filmed rape of the Arikara woman by the French Canadian leader. No – it was not done in a manner that exhibited any flesh other than a guy’s legs. In a day and age when we are having too many problems with violence against women, why does something so vile and repulsive have a place in entertainment??? I despise this part of the movie and it alone puts it on my list of “not to be seen again.” With so many positives going for it, why this? Was it historically correct? One of the terrible parts of history is that this type of thing did occur – women captured were used as slaves by other tribes or sold between tribes or even to white trappers and traders. Native American women were used as sex slaves in addition to other tasks by white men. Yet, this was not done as a documentary or as a real life historical event. This is not the medium for pursuing agendas. Does the sad side of history need to be known? Absolutely! So that we do not repeat history. Again, I see this scene as totally out of place in a story of a man’s struggle to live and seek revenge those who deserted him in a life or death situation – without adding the visual assault into the mix. To be honest, that left the rest of the movie with a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, I wanted to see the movie to the end and find out the culmination, but that scene bothers me. If it was me, the rapist would have had his throat slit so his last sound was a gurgle – at least that is the temptation I would have had. Even if Indians were considered as almost sub-human savages by many, we do not need to go into that over a doggone movie! Was that the focus of the movie sex trafficking in the frontier during the 1820’s? I don’t think so! Maybe you think it added to the story. To me it was the major detractor.

This Grandad’s bottom line: No Oscar for best movie. Bad plot holes. “The Last of the Mohicans” was so much better placed within historical context without stepping into a pile of…mess is what my Mother used to call it! No. I would not have taken my Mother to see this. It was pretty tough setting through the rape scene with my wife. She was uncomfortable.