Beware: This contains spoilers, if it’s possible to have spoilers for a movie with no plot.
I was visiting friends in Summit County (Colorado) recently. Jean suggested we see The Revenant Friday afternoon as she had read about its 12 Oscar nominations. If we had communicated with each other, the three of us would have walked out after the first 10 minutes. This is one of the top ten—no top three—worst movies I have ever seen.
There is no plot. It’s a simplistic story of revenge. The dialogue is beyond minimalist: a new approach, neominimalist. This makes it easier for the actors as they don’t have to learn any lines. Here’s a couple of examples:
The Native American father searching for his daughter who was abducted by French trappers: “Pohakua (his daughter, not sure of spelling) might have been here.” He has maybe three variations on this line, spoken in the language of the Arikara, but shown in subtitles.
DiCaprio, who plays the lead, mostly just grunts and groans, but he has two lines: “You are my son.” And later, “He killed my son.” He actually strings together two or three sentences when talking to the Captain of the fort near the end of the movie.
The occasional raising of the camera to take in the awesome wild scenery as a juxtaposition to the wild violence of the men (and Grizzly) below is sophomoric to the extreme. Although it does give our eyes a rest from the blood, gore, and dead bodies on the ground.
I am not a voyeur of violence so had my hand over my eyes for much of the film. This isn’t a story of survival against all odds, although that’s what it pretends to be; it’s an in-your-face bloody (meant literally, as well as a Brit expletive) example of the violence of men.
To quote Bob Dylan, “You just kinda wasted my precious time (2 ½ hours!), but don’t think twice, it’s all right.” It’s actually not all right.
What’s disturbing are the 12 nominations. This is an example of the best we can do? This is our idea of art, entertainment, culture? Frankly, my book, Voice of a Voyage: Rediscovering the World During a Ten-year Circumnavigation would make an infinitely more interesting, entertaining, and enlightening movie, and I never wrote it with film in mind. It would even be adventurous if you can imagine adventure without blood and guts.
What is it that makes one crave this invidious violence? We can find it in reality in the headlines, on the news, on our streets, in our workplaces. Is it a kind of surrogate retribution, proxy revenge of one’s own for the violence in our own world?
The Revenant broke my cultural soul. The next day it was restored by the Metropolitan’s Live in HD performance of Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers), sponsored by the National Repertory Orchestra (located in Breckenridge, CO) and presented at the Colorado Mountain College auditorium. It is a Bizet opera with one of the most hauntingly beautiful duets between tenor and baritone ever composed. It is set in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), a country I loved and a hauntingly beautiful place, although it certainly has had its share of the violence of men. But if I am critical of The Revenant’s plot, I must add that the plot of most operas is often contrived and unrealistic, but there is a plot, at least. Opera is for the combination of music—orchestral and voice—and drama; and, in the Met’s case the incredible staging, which I would love to describe as it was amazing both to see and then to learn abut the technicalities of creating, but this blog is not about that.
I expect opposition to my oppositional, antithetical, apparently minority—given those 12 nominations—opinion of this film.
I refer you to the last paragraph of one of my earlier blogs, Yemen, Qat, and National Addictions, for a possible clue to the 12 nominations.