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'The Revenant' Is Beautiful and Deeply Unpleasant

The Revenant is basically a story of physical survival under great physical challenge. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is at some points overlaid with Hollywood traditions and cliches, but these tend to appear toward the end of a long movie, and judging by the general run of current movies, I'd guess that a lot of moviegoers will welcome the occasional relief from a story that is not always easy to watch.

Because The Revenant is a story of pain and weakness and frozen moustaches and beards, of people neck-deep in icy rivers and trying to sleep in snow, with breath visible to remind us of the cold to the point that hollowing out a dead horse and crawling into the bloody hide is almost as welcome as a source of warmth as it is disgusting in its suggestions of slime and smell.

The primary story is from a novel, but the novel itself was a fictionalization of what is accepted as a true story that has become a legend of Western lore, formerly presented in a movie called Man in the Wilderness, starring Richard Harris, in 1971, and probably elsewhere. I've been told there was a television version, for example.

The Revenant is extremely well made, though the lead role is so totally devoted to just staying alive that even as fine an actor as Leonardo DiCaprio can't show much variation in his performance, and some people have wondered why so unpleasant a story should be told in terms of so much scenic beauty, as if only man were vile. I, myself, wondered if the whole Indian subplot wasn't a little uncomfortable and unsubtle.

But at least until its closing 20 minutes or so, The Revenant is almost entirely admirable. I'd just rather see it in the summer, when I could more appreciate its cold-weather realism.