Movie Maniac

‘The Revenant’ strives for historical and cultural accuracy

After being left for dead, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) vows revenge in “The Revenant.”
After being left for dead, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) vows revenge in “The Revenant.” Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “The Revenant” is out on DVD and Blu-ray this week.

The film rightfully won Academy Awards for Inarritu’s directing, Emmanuel Lubezki’s breathtaking cinematography and Leonardo DiCapro’s all-in performance. Heck, he earned an Oscar just for enduring the extremely harsh production shoot in the wintry wilderness (quick swim in icy water, anyone?).

In the film, DiCaprio plays 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass, who guides a team of fur trappers through the wilderness with his young half-Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), in tow. While scouting alone, Glass is attacked by a bear and severely wounded (the scene is harrowing and not for the timid).

The trappers mend Glass the best they can, put him on a crudely made stretcher and drag him along with them. But when it’s decided that he is slowing them down too much, the leader of their expedition hires two men in their party, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, who received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination) and Bridger (Will Poulter), to stay behind and give Glass a proper Christian burial when he dies.

Instead, Fitzgerald kills Hawk and leaves Glass for dead. Glass vows revenge.

The film is a visceral experience at times, superbly told and acted. Much was made of Inarritu’s desire for historical accuracy and to portray American Indians in the film accurately.

It’s a respectable and refreshing stance that shouldn’t be that surprising in these modern times, except that Adam Sandler can still get away with ridiculously lampooned portrayals of Native people in “The Ridiculous Six.” I refuse to watch it but read excerpts from the script (I am Comanche, Pawnee and Shawnee).

“The Revenant” certainly is reverent in its depiction of Native peoples. It’s authentic in many ways. The languages spoken are real, whether it be Arikara, Pawnee or Lakota. Loren Yellowbird Sr., from the Arikara tribe who works for the National Parks Service, was a consultant on the film.

The quest for authenticity didn’t stop there. SSN Insider reported that “The Revenant’s” production designer, Jack Fisk, spent 16 months doing exhaustive research, including building a working fort and several American Indian villages.

“We used the same materials they would have,” Fisk said. “I found some anthropological studies of the Pawnee Indians, and some other tribes, so I knew their building techniques.”

The film’s costume designer, two-time Oscar nominee Jacqueline West, is also an admirer of American Indian history and culture. She told SSN Insider:

“We handmade everything using this waxed sinew, which replicates the real sinew they used back then. I tried to take each tribe and find a history, an essence that I could portray on screen to make them different. I wanted to portray them as real, and show just how majestic and rich their culture was. Alejandro was a stickler for realism, too. I think, for him, they were the real heroes in the movie, the Natives we displaced.”

It all makes for a richly drawn film that radiates a sense of place and time. I greatly admire Inarritu and his crew for striving so hard to be authentic. For wanting to honorably represent our nations, which have not always been represented fairly, much less authentically.

I also have a new appreciation for DiCaprio after his thank-you speech when he won the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama:

“I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

Hiri we tur-rahe, Mr. DiCaprio. And in Pawnee, we use that to say thank you.