Some Ramblings - The Revenant (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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The release of 'Die Hard' probably made it easy to all to refer to the subsequent movies of that genre, 'the trapped hero battling against all odds' kind. 'Speed' became 'Die Hard on a bus', 'Under Siege' became 'Die Hard on an aircraft carrier', 'Cliffhanger', 'Die Hard on a mountain', 'The Rock', 'Die Hard in Alcatraz' and many such. The structure of these movies are pretty much set in stone, as is expected of any fare that calls itself a 'genre picture', it is the execution part that separates the wheat from the chaff. The stakes have to be higher, the getting in and getting out have to be ingenious and the thrills have to be of the 'never before' variety. Any deviation from or deficiency in any of the three, the movie can at best muster a 'Die Hard wannabe' moniker. Such was the impact of that movie that was released more than a couple of decades ago that people felt updating the bench mark was simply unnecessary. 'Die Hard' had it all and it framed the rules just about right. There are a few more sub-genres whose rules are generally considered immutable - the 'heist' genre, 'the boxing' picture, 'the underdog lawyer' variety, or in the one question, 'the survivalist' kind. There have been tens of movies that have tasted success in the survivalist genre, some based on real incidents and some drummed up from the fertile imaginations, but all involving a person trapped somewhere isolated, deserted and left for dead and the movie is all about the journey back to be counted among the living battling against possibilities and conditions. And so the person can be lost somewhere on land, on water, in space, finding himself sometimes all in one piece or at times parts missing, subjected to abject conditions and his crawl back to civilization is the movie. 'Cast Away', 'Alive', 'All is Lost', 'Gravity', 'Apollo 13', 'The Grey' or the recent 'The Martian' tread those sacred principles carefully, and however much the end result is a foregone conclusion, as they say, the journey is the goal in itself. Here is another addition to the list, 'The Revenant', a worthy torch bearer to the future of the genre.

Based on a true story of a fur trapper during the 1800's, it is about a man who clawed his way back into reckoning, pulling himself through sheer grit for a little over 200 miles of desolate frigid lands of the Old West, after being mauled badly by a grizzly bear, and left for dead deep in the woods by his teamsters. And to really pile on the bear attack, the cold, the distance, the loss of legs and near to no food, he also had to fend himself from native American tribes on a rampage looking to kill any white man that crossed their path for the then ongoing and past historical injustices. So to put it in 'Die Hard' terms, this is 'Cast Away' meets 'Alive' crosses 'Gravity' mixing '127 Hours' mashed with 'My Left Foot' rolled in one with an extra helping of 'The Edge', to put it shortly. If this was indeed how it really happened for a man who ultimately lived to tell his tale (overlooking a few embellishments that one is wont to make, particularly when recounting something as rich, hairy and near impossible tale as this), this certainly takes the cake over the rest of all survivalists stories captured on celluloid till date. This is truly an unbelievable and a remarkable achievement of human endurance and perseverance.

Impossible, as it may seem, the survivalist story still takes a backseat to how the tale is told. Alexander Inarritu, who was richly rewarded at the Academy Awards previous year for his interesting (and single) take on the Broadway backstage machinations with 'Birdman', raises his game even further up this time around choosing to film only in natural light conditions with as few post production touchups as possible, and the results are truly stunning. Back in the day, there was a buzz around another of these natural light photography sequences, not for the entire movie but for a key moment, which by itself was great achievement enough. Not one to shy away from any kind of (technical) challenge, Stanley Kubrick had special lenses made to retrofit old and bulky rear projection cameras to film in natural light (in a dark room that is only candlelit to boot) for an eye feast of a sequence in 'Barry Lyndon', and Inarritu even surpasses that by some quite some distance. Known for his penchant for long takes, Inarritu choreographs the many action pieces in the movie, including the combat scenes, moving in and out and around the action in ballet like fluid, continuous and unbroken movements. Filming all this in frigid weather conditions in barren landscapes, where sunlight plays truant for most parts of the day, capturing the entire action (of each war segment) over days and weeks to match the sunlight continuity, combating unforgiving conditions, and to top it, steadfastly refusing for quick and easy cuts, which is a norm for action choreography, this is one monumental and extraordinary effort befitting such an outstanding story.

Next in line for commendation is Leonardo DiCaprio, who throws himself head first into the role, practically living out the life of the person he was portraying in body and spirit, down to the desperate eating habits (a raw liver of a bison here, the entrails of a captured fish there), quite easily the hardest part of acting. The trio, the director, photographer and the actor, successfully recreate those times of a few rules, horrendous brutality and tremendous violence, not to mention a scant regard to life (leave side, the quality of it). In making a movie a near best in the genre, 'The Revenant' throws a gauntlet to the ones that aim to dabble in the genre to either raise their game or simple settle for a 'The Revenant wannabe' tag.


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