Tag Archives: The Revenant

The Burden in the Blink of an Eye — “The Revenant”

by Gabriel Valdez

“The Revenant” contains two important blinks. The first is cruelly unavoidable, called out in the script as a way of inviting a man to ask for his own death. The second is easily missed, nothing more than a silent and passing recognition. These are two of the most important moments in the film. They are witnessed by no one else, and they are both meaningless outside of the two people sharing them.

“The Revenant” follows Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass, the guide for an 1820s fur trading expedition. I won’t ruin any details, but he is left for dead, 200 miles from the nearest safe haven, and has to survive in the harsh winter of Montana and South Dakota with a broken leg and wounds so deep they expose his ribs.

To classify this as a Western or a Survival movie, or much of anything in particular is to view “The Revenant” through a very partial lens. Noir is deeply embedded in its bones. Noir doesn’t need to take place in back alleys and be spouted by suits. It can wear pelts in the cold Rocky Mountains and require almost no dialogue. Noir is just fatalism: the determination that your story is the only one in the universe that matters, juxtaposed against the realization that your story doesn’t matter to the universe in the least. Yet even this stops short of communicating what “The Revenant” is or does as a piece of art.

I’ll describe some of my favorite atmospheric movies as tone poems. Yet for all its natural atmosphere, this isn’t what “The Revenant” is. This is a thick novel, a Hemingway kind of tome. It’s built less for analysis and more for impermeability; less to say something and more to live something. In that way, objective definitions of what “The Revenant” is fail.

Impermeable concepts become malleable – they mean something different to each of us. Each character in “The Revenant” questions the nature of God or the Creator in his own story, particularly through the nature of loss and the cruelty of one’s own survival in the face of that loss. Concepts such as purpose, revenge, forgiveness, and balance become uniquely personal to each. There is no right answer. There is no wrong. There’s no reason to keep going and there’s no reason to stop.

“The Revenant” tells a story in a way that almost acknowledges that the story doesn’t need to be told. Every other character you look at has suffered a story of loss and heartache. The film keeps reminding us that every other human being you encounter, every other animal even, is essentially living out his or her own survival story. What makes Glass’s any different? What makes it matter? Nothing, the film keeps reminding us. There is no point in Glass’s survival. There is no point in his death. There are moments in the film where you’ll want each. There are moments where Glass’s sheer survival is an act of will that brings out the divine in him. There are moments where Glass’s suffering and the clear peace and beauty of release seem the kinder choice by far. This isn’t a film where you root for something to happen, but it is a film where you have to know what happens.

For the intensity of its subject matter, there are very few traditionally dramatic moments in “The Revenant.” Tremendously dramatic things happen – the entire movie’s a tense progression of mounting disasters. There’s just never any particular dramatic moment that’s made to give the audience release – a heartbreaking moment of weeping or an inspired monologue. If DiCaprio wins an Oscar (and he should), I can’t imagine what they’ll select out as his acting clip. He barely has any dialogue. Yet this is the best performance he’s ever given.

I have no clue how to recommend “The Revenant” or to whom one should recommend it. If I listed its trigger warnings, I’d be here all day. It’s a brilliant place to visit; it would be horrific to live in it. No one should see it – it’s abominably and relentlessly cruel. Everyone should see it – it seeks the divine in each of us, no matter how ugly.

No one should suffer it – its world is a profoundly bleak and lonely place. Everyone should joy in it – it is as close to a spiritual revelation as film gets.

No one should see it – when the credits rolled, I felt like my soul had been emptied. Everyone should see it – when the credits rolled, I felt like my soul had been emptied.

Does it Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women on film. I’ll save us a bit of time, since there’s not much to go into via the regular breakdown. There are two women with speaking roles in “The Revenant,” they never meet, and the events of the film are not kind to either. Then again, they’re not kind to anybody.

This is a good film, but it’s not one that affords many opportunities to women.

The featured image is from Electric-Shadows’ review of the film. On a separate note, I’d also check out Consequence of Sound’s review.

Most Anticipated Movies of 2015: Bodice Rippers, Tentacle Girlfriends, & Kristen Stewart — #20-11

Far From the Madding Crowd Carey Mulligan

by Gabriel Valdez

Once more unto the breach. Let’s dive right in:


You could also call this Most Anticipated Bodice Ripper. Let me just quote the IMDB summary for a second: “In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.”

The Thomas Hardy novel on which it’s based was a fairly early piece of feminist literature that examined the social and personal pressures put upon women to choose a suitor. Far too often, these sorts of adaptations turn a complex work of literature into a breathy, steamy potboiler. That sort of simplicity would be a first for Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, however. His last film, The Hunt, concerned the ruination of a teacher’s life after a rumor about his sexuality is started.

Vinterberg is not one to dumb material down. His films are stories that beautifully present the rough edges of society we pretend to ignore. While Far From the Madding Crowd looks like a prettier presentation of your typical period romance, the talent behind it – including lead actress Carey Mulligan – hints at something more complex. May 1.


When you read H.P. Lovecraft, you’re meant to be horrified at the realization of ancient societies that worshiped dark, insane gods. But here’s the thing: any society that lasts for any real extent of time, and the people living in it are worried about picking up food for dinner, meeting someone special, and trying to remember to do the laundry on time.

So what happens when a man unwittingly starts a romance with a woman who’s half Italian femme fatale, half Lovecraftian beastie? Where does the horror end and just living out your life begin? Aren’t we being a bit judgmental if we assume someone’s a crazed psychopath just because she sprouts tentacles?

Spring has been described as a horror romance about an Italian town that’s perfectly comfortable with its alternative nature. Can a romance survive the judgments we make against that nature, however? April 17.


And here we go. How do you tell Europe a story of marginalized people treated like outcasts when certain European countries go so far as to legislate the clothing of certain religions and races of people (hi, France, Britain, Netherlands), when some countries wage violent political battle to kick those people out (hi, Sweden, Hungary, Turkey), and even when some countries enforce laws so differently for different races that the prisons are 80% minority-filled despite a civilian population that’s only 20-30% minority (hi, well, almost all of Europe). How do you tell a story about entire peoples kicked around and treated like mongrel dogs to a continent that doesn’t want to hear it?

Well, you can actually tell that story with mongrel dogs. The same way the original Planet of the Apes examined racism in a way that would never have made the big-screen in 1968 if it had actually been about Caucasians and African-Americans, a film like White God can face Europe and convince it to watch a movie about an ethnic revolt and, well, cheer for those rioting in the streets.

It’s important to note the obvious danger when a film does this. The key is in making it its own story, not a straight analogue. The goal after all is not to compare marginalized people to animals, but rather to compare the treatment of those marginalized people to the treatment of animals. It must be a judgment on the culture, not on the subject itself, or you start doing the very damage you’re speaking against. March 27.

Hustle main

17. JOY

There’s not much known about this film other than the talent behind it: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in a David O. Russell film. He previously teamed them in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. And, oh by the way, the screenplay’s written by Annie Mumolo. You may know her better as the writer (with Kristen Wiig) of Bridesmaids.

The film follows a single mother in Long Island who starts her own business and makes it big. Beyond that, not much is known. The turnaround on the film is going to be very quick, so let’s hope it makes its intended release date of December 25.


At some point, everyone’s going to get over themselves and recognize Kristen Stewart is a risk-taking actor with a rare nose for intriguing and challenging projects. Until then, we consider her here, in the words of Vanessa Tottle, “Our Patron Saint of Go F*ck Yourself.” (Asterisk added.)

Teaming her up with Juliette Binoche and Chloe Grace Moretz makes for the kind of film we almost never see – a serious drama centering around the relationship between three women, in this case taking place during the production of a film that challenges Binoche’s concept of how the people in her life fit into it.

I’ve been looking forward to this one for ages, as it’s meandered through the festivals and struggled to find an American distributor, despite Stewart having set a box office record for an actress her age just three short years ago. Shows you what happens when a man twice your age with a wife and kids takes advantage of you. You get blackballed from an industry, he gets a $200 million film. That’s why she’s our Patron Saint of, well, you know. No date set.


Alex Garland has written some of the most beautifully screwed up screenplays of the last two decades, many of which were immediately snapped up by director Danny Boyle (The Beach, 28 Days Later…, Sunshine). My favorite might be a non-Boyle project, Never Let Me Go.

This has also allowed Garland the opportunity to train under one of the most versatile and adaptive filmmakers in modern history, so when he makes his own directorial debut with Ex Machina, it’s worth noticing.

I also don’t pay much heed to studios, but at this point, I’ll watch anything that A24 decides to fund or acquire. Their nose for projects gave me two of my top 5 films of 2014, the Scottish horror Under the Skin and the Australian post-apocalypse tale The Rover, as well as a host of stellar comedies and psychological thrillers. Garland and A24? Two names I trust, with a story that looks pretty compelling. April 10.

Revenant DiCaprio


After this year’s Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu pulls a complete 180 and makes a revenge Western. It will follow none other than Leondardo DiCaprio as protagonist Hugh Glass. Left for dead, he goes off in search of John Fitzgerald, played by…

Look, you guys, this isn’t funny anymore. Who is really playing John Fitzgerald? It can’t be Tom Hardy, not unless he found David Bowie’s cloning machine from The Prestige. Wait, what!?! Tom Hardy played the cloning machine in The Prestige? Oh for god’s sake…

So, in The Revenant, DiCaprio goes after Tom Hardy, and I really hope he gets him because this is getting ridiculous. How is Tom Hardy in all the films this year? He’s appeared three times in two films already on our list. That doesn’t even make sense. It’s like he’s a secret plan so that the Academy doesn’t even have to bother nominating 20 white actors in a year and just nominates 20 Tom Hardys. There’s no one that can stand against that, except…the Chosen One.

The one actor who’s always nominated but never wins…. Leo, this is your purpose, your calling, your reason for being! This is why you’ve suffered all those years, why you had to watch Matthew McConaughey get up there and say he’s most grateful to himself when he looks in the mirror. Go get Tom Hardy, Leo, and save the world for the rest of us. We’ll find out who wins – Tom Hardy or Leo, and therefore the world – in December.

(Above photo courtesy of Entertainment Weekly…obviously.)


I’m just going to leave the trailer up there. You can tell me if you like it, and are therefore telling the truth, or if you don’t like it and are lying for some reason. Because I don’t know anyone who sees those two minutes and says they don’t want to see the full movie. February 13.


This might seem like a funny one to have this high, but Niki Caro is a special director, able to capture the small-town dynamics of various cultures and make otherwise cliché stories feel fresh again. She’s best known for the dreamy New Zealand inspirational Whale Rider. Kevin Costner’s unique talent lies in capturing an audience’s goodwill the moment he steps onto the screen. That was misused in action films in 2014, but here he plays a P.E. Coach who starts an unlikely and underdog cross country racing program. I’ll look forward to seeing Costner in a more comfortable mode again, but I’ll most look forward to how Caro presents this town and its people. February 20.


The jury’s still out on director Neill Blomkamp. Excitement over his unexpected sci-fi success with District 9 was tempered by the beautifully designed but incredibly uneven Elysium. Chappie takes place in a near-future world where a decommissioned military robot is salvaged by a family who raise him like a toddler. When his former masters come to claim him, Chappie is forced to grow up through the rite of passage that is eight bazillion explosions. Still, this is the kind of story Blomkamp tells best, focusing on the personal inside of the epic. Hopefully, he can keep his eye on the smaller picture. March 6.

Allow me to also link my own thoughts on why the burgeoning slate of films about artificial intelligence give us characters who strive to be more human at a time when humans strive to be more vicious.

Keep an eye out for out Top 10 most anticipated movies of the year.

Read our picks for #40-31 here and #30-21 here.