Essay from Rui Carvalho

Cinema Critique: The Revenant by Rui M. Carvalho (28 March 2016)


Inspired by true events, The Revenant, a movie directed by Alejandro Iñárritu, is an example of a film whose trailer alone makes us feel it has a significant message to transmit. Visually, it might be considered almost a new genre of western, which we might call the “frozen western.”

The sentence “I’m not afraid to die any more, I done it already” surely creates on us a deep first impression, expressing the idea that there’s no turning back: only a landscape in front, and a shadow behind the speaker. This dramatic first impression is further emphasized by the contrast between ice — dominant, mostly blue and grey — and, sometimes, small dots of fire, mostly yellow and orange. A human tragedy plays out in the course of the movie, in which divers persons confront the meaning of their lives; this being especially obvious during one of the last scenes, in which the aggressor, played by Tom Hardy, speaks with the hero (or surviving victim, if you please), played by Leonardo Dicaprio, and confronts us all with deep questions: What is justice for? What types of justice are there and what are the ones we want? Should justice be a constructive process?

This type of reasoning is an example of what some cinematic theorists consider to be the psychological role of film: as a tool to give new significance to reality, to educate and influence the citizenry. The Guardian asserts that cinema can be valuable for children’s and young peoples’ learning and cultural experience (The Guardian, 28 March 2016). And this can be seen as a detail of a big process of civilization, which “is not linear and conscious” (Cultural Studies Now, 28 March 2016).

Nevertheless, an ecologic message is also given to the spectator mainly when we realize the omnipresent and dominating nature that surrounds all the characters of the history: a group of men go to a foreign land to collect beaver pelts, giving them a purpose to their journey, but enticing them to a cathartic trap: the mountains and the river are frozen obstacles; but at the same time, they provide food, shelter and some peace; and, most specially, a tree and a horse save the main character’s life. He receives a message, systematically remembered: “Life is like a tree: although a branch might be lost, the important is to realize the tree remains strong as long as the trunk remains firm and supports all the other branches.”

In order to stress this, trees are almost everywhere as silent witnesses of slaughter. There’s no possible redemption for that reality; or maybe I’m wrong and we might conceive it as the understanding that people sometimes, when they are completely alone (or wish to be), find their own way but, if by chance, they manage to get back “home” — meaning “with one’s own tribe” — they discover the unfortunate truth that some people aren’t able to accept us back as we would like, simply because they don’t understand what we have become; regardless of the fact they didn’t provide us with any successful rescue… Putting things in different words: people from different tribes, as families, meet each other but have difficulty recognizing themselves as equal humans; like bees that being in need of a new home face the hard challenge of trying to be accepted by the bees of a new colony, knowing beforehand that they they must take into account that they have different pheromones, meaning “alien” or “exotic” languages. And when a further step is taken, when the main character, but not only he, eats raw meat and grass to survive, forgetting they could cook their meal,man obviously is at the same ground as nature. Nature and man become one, a rediscovered brotherhood. If you, the reader, kindly authorize me to be humorous and ironic, I’m able to tell you that the performing prize should had been given to a horse because they are probably the only “actors” that really believe being experiencing what they are supposed just to be performing!

This specific relation with nature, seams to me, and I strongly believe many readers of this short essay will feel the same, a very universal feeling. It makes me remember and archaeological finding in my country, Portugal, a few years ago: it was found a dog buried with stones, more than 2000 years ago, and it is believed that was made by a shepherd of the old Portuguese tribe, the Lusitanos. And why was that possible? Well he, almost certainly, would consider the small animal one of his best friends. Isn’t this familiar to all of us?

Summing up, I really recommend the movie, specially if you are able to be conscious that all the violence isn’t real and taking into account you recognize that, at the end, the main character finds justice because he did good things to others in the recent past, actually freeing him of the pain of doing justice with his own hands, avoiding, somehow, to be as the criminal who caused him the pain he feels. The “photographic” landscapes are also breathtaking and this, combined with a very intelligent screenplay, sensitive and human, with psychological drama, interesting and introspective music, a touch of ecumenism, and a close relationship with nature, most valuable for those who enjoy a close contact with her, makes me think this is clearly a good piece of art. Also, the way the camera leads us by the landscape also creates a non inconsiderable feeling of immersion, in a story very specific to a place in time and a region but with universal appeal.

Finally, I got curious about the novel by Michael Punke, because the movie is based in part on it. Definitely, you should discover the history while seeing the movie. The script might not praise completely to everybody, due to the violence, but certainly it has content and you will not be indifferent to it!


Cultural Studies Now (access 28 March 2016), “Norbert Elias – The Civilizing Process – Summary and Review – part 1”,

The Guardian (access 28 March 2016), “Film can have a leading role in education”,

2 thoughts on “Essay from Rui Carvalho

  1. Pingback: Synchronized Chaos » Blog Archive » Synchronized Chaos April 2016: Escape Artistry

  2. I love the sounds that the trees make when the wind enters the scene. I’m sorry that I didn’t see the movie now. I think the scenes of nature would have enlightened my closeness to God. Maybe that’s what it’s all about becoming one with nature.This experience reveals our connection to all that has come from a source of creativity.

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