Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Return of Iñárritu

rev • e • nant

  1. One that returns after a lengthy absence.
  2. One who returns after death. 

So sayeth the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Languageand those two definitions make sense regarding Alejandro González Iñárritus 2015 film The Revenant (although Im not sure why one One gets a that, while the other One gets a who—are there otherworldly implications there?). The AHD also provides a brief etymology: the term revenant derives from the French present participle of revenir, meaning to return. The films title, then, dovetails with Iñárritus own return to the Oscars scene.

Last summer in the Dick Clark Productions Screening Room, my girlfriend fiancée, Joanna, and I first became aware of The Revenant via its teaser trailer. Having already finished the first season of Les Revenants, I was aware of the term and its return from the dead meaning. Also, Id just finished teaching a literary analysis class in which the final essay focused on Iñárritus 2014 film Birdman, which has a fantastical or magical-realistic or even numinous quality. So after watching that teaser trailerroughly two minutes that capture the pumping action and imagery of the film, without giving away its plotI expected The Revenant to follow suit with Birdman in its sense of magic and mystery. With that, The Revenant became my top must-see film (well, alongside or just under The Force Awakens).

Then a fuller trailer came out and did what trailers often do: it over-explained. TMI! I thought. With the new trailer, I gained a clearer idea of the plot yet lost that earlier sense of magic and mystery. Would Iñárritus latest be a straightforward revenge story? Perhaps. But even if the film turned out to be something other than what I initially expected, I was still in. After all, Im a fan of Iñárritus films largely because they defy my expectation. Consider the directors filmography, including Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, Birdmaneach one unique, each one masterful. All indications pointed to The Revenant being another masterpiece.

And so it is. On the night after Christmas, Jo and I took our seats in the screening room. From the opening sequencewith its subjective, floating camera, and its gritty, epic feelI knew we were watching greatness. After the Glass down the river scene, in which Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) hides from the Arikara tribe and then crawls frantically through the freezing river water, I thought, Hes a shoo-in for Best Actor. By the films end, I sat there with that satiated, blissed-out feeling you get when youve experienced something poignant and extraordinary. Something beyond. A masterpiece, yes, and an instant classic.

Otherworldly. Numinous. Something beyond. I have plugged in these descriptors because The Revenant does contain that magic and mystery I detected in the teaser. The film isnt merely a tale of revenge; theres more to it. Having been left for dead by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass does persevere; he fights to survive; he returns, becoming the revenant of the title. And beyond revenge, he is motivated by other revenants: the memory of his wife and son. They have died, yet in death, there is life. Several images make this point: an Arikara warrior wears a bison pelt to intimidate his enemies; a bird emerges from the shirt of Glasss dead wife; Glass himself wears a bear pelt and sleeps inside his dead horse. Life inside death. Though Glasss wife and son are dead, their spirits live on.

Almost a year to the day, Jo and I met for our first date. We got coffees and went for a long walk, chatting about several topics, including the Academy Awards. At that time, I predicted a big night for Iñárritu. And now? Itdéjà vu all over again. Heres to another big night for Iñárritu and crew.

Enjoy the Oscars, wherever you are!


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