In “The Revenant,” suffering is an extreme sport. No character in film history has been put through quite as much pain and turmoil as Hugh Glass, Leonardo DiCaprio’s nearly wordless protagonist, endures over the course of two-and-a-half blood-soaked hours.
Let us count the many labors of Leonardo DiCaprio (major spoiler alert):
Survives being mauled by a bear
Groans in pain as his tattered body is stitched back together
Almost dies but then doesn’t
Witnesses his son being stabbed to death in front of him
Nearly drowns in a river while fleeing the arrows of an angry horde of Native Americans
Drives his horse off a giant cliff and hits a very tall tree, falling 60-ish feet to the ground
Stays alive by eating twigs and rotting meat
Takes shelter in the carcass of a dead horse
Has his ear bitten off and his hand stabbed during an altercation
Did we mention he has a dead wife and that the film also features a scalping and castration by shotgun? In one scene, Glass lights a fire to cauterize the wound on his neck with gunpowder, lifting a nearly identical scene from “Rambo III” where Sylvester Stallone illustrates that he doesn’t need medical care. He can tend to his own injuries! To further prove his unassailable manliness, Rambo also gives himself stitches in “First Blood.”
In “The Revenant,” every scene is that scene—except instead of suffering for his masculinity, DiCaprio is killing himself for the sake of “art.”
The set for the “The Revenant,” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, wasn’t any friendlier. “Given cinematographer Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki’s decision only to use natural light, there was a short window each day when the production could film,” said the Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters.
Because the film takes place in the tundra-like conditions of French Canada in the 1820s, Lubezki and his team were forced to film on multiple continents, constantly chasing the most appropriately snowy conditions to shoot in. DiCaprio was forced to eat raw bison liver and wade through frozen rivers, reportedly risking hypothermia and even death.
Those might seem like absurd lengths to go just to film a movie, but in today’s cinema, the extreme is becoming commonplace. In a crowded marketplace, filmmakers are being pushed to increasing extremes to stand out.
After all, “The Revenant” wasn’t the only 2015 film that pushed its actors to the brink: In “Mad Max: Fury Road,” director George Miller reportedly shot more than 400 hours of footage in the harsh conditions of the Namib Desert; the production was forced to relocate from New South Wales after an unusual amount of rainfall made the landscape too lush—not a great stand-in for the post-apocalypse.
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