As far as I could tell, this movie was mostly about snow. Falling, melting, freezing, cracking. To that end, it was lovely. Everything that happened in the snow followed various trajectories of men and beasts who wished to shield their young from their own mortality, with different results: a white man, an indigenous man, and a grizzly bear were each confronted with a threat, and each responded within his or her remit to save their young from harm. The impacts of each threat were amplified and broadened each time that protective line between parent and child was crossed. In between there was some chitchat about man stuff, and a lot of people died.
The Revenant was beautifully shot, but the dialogue fell short of the Terrence Malick style introspection and revelation about the masculine identity it seemed to be striving for. Iñárritu’s signature otherworldly messengers, however, permeated the film nonetheless. Subtle themes of longing – men longing for wives and lives lost to death or distance – and the ambivalent ethics of vengeance made otherwise clunky flashbacks and twangy bearded mumbling bearable, though none of the performances seemed to merit the acclaim they’ve been garnering. The violence in the film was visceral, and beautifully staged, with the opening sequence enacting a similar thrall as scenes from Edward Zwick’s Glory, or the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. The catastrophe of injury and death in the cold was palpable, the anguish of loss ever-present.
Iñárritu has a gift for creating emotional textures in filmmaking that don’t rely heavily on dialogue or plot development. After watching one of his films, what lingers is a dreamlike quality, a prevailing melancholy or urgency that can’t quite be placed, and doesn’t belong to a single scene or character in particular. This film was among his more patient in that respect, despite the violence. The poetry, as in all his films, is in between the lines.