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**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke (2002)
The Revenant directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2015)
Thoughts on the Book
The book is a fictional telling of a real event that happened to Hugh Glass. Glass has become part of mountain man lore, some stories have some truth while others are more legend. One thing we know did happen, is that he was attacked by a bear; the men who were suppose to watch over him abandoned him and robbed him. Yet, he survived to tell the tale.
Punke makes the story his own by including fictional characters as well as fictional events mixed with the true overall story. There were times this book dragged a bit, but for the most part I did enjoy it. For the most part, it is a gripping story, with detailed characters and a great ending. Great ending, as in like the last paragraph. The big event that happens at the end is Glass’s confrontation with Fitzgerald, and as I will talk about later, this part was very disappointing. Punke also does the annoying thing where an event happens, then it turns out it was a just a dream. And he does this not once, but twice! Come one, even just one scene like that is usually one too many. Anyway, having said that, I did like this book pretty well.
Jim Bridger is another man who has gone down in mountain man history and most historians agree that he was one of the men who left Glass for dead. The book gives us the background on all the real life main characters-Glass, Fitzgerald, Bridger, Henry and even some other minor characters.
Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu won best director for this movie, making it two years in a row that he won the award and it was certainly well deserved! (The previous year he won for Birdman). Emmanuel Lubezki also won for cinematography and I can’t talk about this movie without talking about how freakin incredible the cinematography is! So beautiful! This movie famously was shot with only natural light as well as being filmed in chronological order.
I’ll just say right now, I love this movie. I saw it in theaters two or three times, and after the first time I had that natural high you get. I was glowing. I even did back to back movies, watching the Hateful Eight which came out around the same time as this. Even though Hateful Eight was fresher in my mind, as I left the theater my mind went back to The Revenant and I just could not stop thinking about it.
After the movie, I read the book and my only memory from it was that I found the book disappointing. There is a specific scene in the book I didn’t like, and I will get into that later. Reading the book this time around, made me realize how little I remembered about it from that first reading lol. It was much better than I had remembered.
As much as I loved this movie, I actually haven’t seen it since it came out on DVD in early 2016. Even if I love a movie, I don’t tend to do frequent rewatches (movie theaters excluded, because if there is a movie in theaters I love I will go see it multiple times since that’s the only chance you get to see it on the big screen). Anyway, it’s been five years since seeing this movie so there was actually a number of things about it I had forgotten.
Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Hugh Glass. Funny enough, he won the award for the film in which he has the least dialogue! He has about ten minutes of dialogue throughout this movie. About this he said, “It was a different type of challenge for me because I’ve played a lot of very vocal characters…It’s something that I really wanted to investigate – playing a character who says almost nothing. How do you relay an emotional journey and get in tune with this man’s angst … without words?”
A great movie to watch back to back with this one, is Wolf of Wallstreet. In one movie, DiCaprio says almost nothing, in the other he has pages and pages of dialogue. It really showcases how incredible he is! He is an actor I have covered the most on this podcast, not purposefully necessarily, a lot of his movies just happen to be based on books! He is also in so many incredible movies, so it just so happens I have covered him a lot. Anyway, he is amazing actor and is incredible in this. There was talk early on of Christian Bale being in the role of Hugh Glass, and I think he would have done amazing as well.
Tom Hardy is just as incredible as Fitzgerald. This is the third Hardy movie I have talked about here, and he also is just such a great actor. He really embodies the roles he plays and there are so many great scenes in this movie with him. When he and Glass are fighting at the end, Glass cuts off some of Fitzgerald’s fingers, but rather than yell out in pain or something, he just seems annoyed by it! Also, the part when he lies to Bridger about the Arikara approaching, Bridger says thay they haven’t buried Glass. Fitzgerald then drags Glass into the shallow grave and starts putting dirt on him. This was such an “OMG” scene lol, and Hardy is just wonderful in all of it.
Will Poulter speaking of Jim Bridger, he is played here by Will Poulter. I don’t think I have seen any other movies with him, but he is excellent as the young Bridger.
Domhall Gleeson plays Captain Henry and overall he is well cast. In the book, it talks about how bad luck follows Henry, and there is just this metaphorical cloud around him and his men. Gleeson definitely shows that downcast/discouraged vibe. There are a few times, specifically near the end, when it seems he is overacting a bit. I’m thinking of the scene when he is hitting Bridger when he finds out what happened. It’s not terrible though, and like I said, overall he does a good job.
The Legend of Hugh Glass
A lot of the specific events that happen to Glass from the time he is abandoned, to the time he is back with Captain Henry, is different from book to movie. I don’t mind that the movie didn’t follow the book exactly though. No one knows what Glass specifically did to survive and the details of what he endured, we can just guess. It just adds to the legend of Glass, by having the book and movie share different stories. The book doesn’t have the scene where he cuts open the dead horse to sleep in it during the winter storm, however that is part of Glass lore. I read that the story of Glass doing that, is where Lucas got the idea to have a scene like that in Star Wars.
The Bear Attack
The movie doesn’t hold back when the bear attack scene, and showing the condition Glass’s body was in. There is also that scene later, when Glass drinks water and is just comes out through the hole in his throat. He then cauterizes it, which is so painful he passes out.
The book also doesn’t hold back in its descriptions. One things the book talked about that wasn’t shown in the movie, is that the bear also loosened Glass’s scalp. The guy who finds him is named Harris and it reads, “But he had never seen human carnage like this, fresh in the wake of attack. Glass was shredded from head to foot. His scalp lay dangling to one side, and it took Harris an instant to recognize the components that made up his face…Harris focused on the head. Glass at least deserved the dignity of wearing his scalp. Harris poured water from his canteen, attempting to wash away as much of the dirt as possible. The skin was so loose that it was almost like replacing a fallen hat on a bald man. Harris pulled the scalp across Glass’s skull, pressing the loose skin against his forehead and tucking it behind his ear. They could stitch it later if Glass lasted that long.”
Probably the biggest change the movie makes is adding a wife and son. We never meet the wife because she had died years before, but we see her in Glass’s dreams and such. There is a flashback scene to when his wife was killed, and we see her lying on the ground, then a bird comes out of her chest and flies away-symbolizing her spirit leaving. I thought that was just so beautiful. Later, we see Fitzgerald and Bridger eating and we see a bird Fitzgerald ate and it looked very similar to the type we saw in the flashback which made me wonder if it was done on purpose in order to symbolize the kind of man Fitzgerald was. His son is there with him and after the bear attack he of course stays behind with his father.
In the movie, Bridger and Hawk (Glass’s son, who is half Pawnee) are off doing something and Fitzgerald tells Glass that he can mercy kill him basically, that way they can be on their way. He tells him to blink if that’s what he wants done. Glass does blink eventually, and it is a long seemingly purposeful blink. Fitzgerald starts to gag Glass, when Hawk comes up and stops him and is yelling. Fitzgerald is trying to explain the “deal” he and Glass had, but Hawk keeps yelling for Bridger, so Fitzgerald stabs him and kills him.
In the end, Fitzgerald brings this up, saying he and Glass had had a deal and Hawk wasn’t listening to him try to explain. Glass yells that they’d had no deal. He did blink though! But maybe he wasn’t fully comprehending what Fitzgerald had been saying at the time, or maybe his eyes were just feeling dry and he had to blink sometime lol.
Having Glass have a son whom Fitzgerald kills, definitely adds to why Glass would be so set on revenge. In the book, he didn’t blame them for leaving him, but what he wanted revenge for was the fact that they robbed him and gave him no chance to make it one his own. When I read the book originally, the movie was fresh in my mind, and I was like, is that all?? But this time around, I kind of liked that he wasn’t trying to avenge someone who died, but rather just doing it for himself I guess. Having said that, the movie is more emotional due to his son dying, plus the dream sequences with his wife. There is a dream sequence about halfway through where he sees his son. When I saw this in theaters, this scene had me crying-not just tearing up, but crying. Such a powerful scene. The score in this movie is also fantastic. It isn’t always playing something, oftentimes it is just the sounds of nature, but when it is there, it is perfect. And the fact that it isn’t constnantly in the background, makes it more powerful when it is there.
In the book, Glass did have a woman he was engaged to. He was a sailor at the time, and he left to go somewhere and one his way back home his ship was taken over by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Glass then joined Lafitte s crew (it was either that, or die) and he never saw her again. He did write home some time later and learned she had died of some kind of sickness.
In the book we get a look into the inner thoughts and feelings of various characters. When Bridger says he will stay with Glass, we learn his reasons for doing so. It reads, “He remembered how the captain had patted him on the shoulder when the brigade departed, and how the simple gesture had filled him with a sense of affiliation, as if for the first time he deserved his place among the men. Wasn’t that why he was there in the clearing—to salve his wounded pride? Not to take care of another man, but to take care of himself? Wasn’t he just like Fitzgerald, profiting from another man’s misfortune? Say what you would about Fitzgerald, at least he was honest about why he stayed.”
In the movie, it seems like Bridger had purer intentions. For one, it seems he and Hawk were friends, which makes sense since they were the two youngest ones there. When the captain says he will pay those who stay behind to bury Glass, Hawk and Bridger say the third man to stay can have their share of the pay. Which is when Fitzgerald agrees. In the book, the captain offers money, and Bridger volunteer’s, but he doesn’t offer his money to whoever else stays. Fitzgerald also takes Glass knife when they rob him, and give it to Bridger who takes it. In the movie, Bridger leaves a canteen with Glass. This wasn’t in the book. The canteen becomes important later, because it has a distinct engraving. When a man comes to the fort he has the canteen, which makes Fitzgerald realize Glass is still alive and he leaves the fort before he is found out.
Anyway, back to Bridger. In the book, Glass comes to the fort on New Years Eve, and when he walks in the door, everyone looks to him in shock. He goes straight for Bridger and starts punching and kicking him while Bridger doesn’t fight back. The books reading, “He looked down at Bridger, and something unexpected began to happen. The perfection of the moment began to evaporate. Bridger looked back at Glass, and in his eyes, Glass saw not malice, but fear; not resistance, but resignation. Fight back, damn you! One twitch of opposition to justify the final strike.”
Henry lets this happen, saying it us up to Glass to enforce the punishment. In the movie, Henry is the one that finds Bridger after Glass’s return, and beats him up while Glass watches. Glass then later tells Henry that Bridger isn’t to blame. In the book, Glass is at the fort for a month and during that time Bridger avoids being around him. When Glass is about to head out, Bridger approaches him and apologies for everything. Glass replies telling Bridger to be his own man, rather than following a bad lead essentially.
When Bridger is traveling with Fitzgerald, they don’t exactly get along, as is also shown in the movie. There is a line in the book that says, “The boy looked away, hating Fitzgerald for his bloodhound ability to sense weakness. Fitzgerald absorbed Bridger’s discomfort like the nourishment of raw meat.” Both actors really convey this in the movie.
Pawnee and Arikara
In the book and movie, the Pawnee tribe is friendly towards whites, whereas the Arikara (also called the Ree) are not. In the book, we don’t know much about the Arikara. In the movie, we see the chief and that he is looking for his kidnapped daughter. This helped give more character to him and his tribe, and explains why they are attacking white people they see. My one complaint though is that every time the chief talks, he brings up his missing daughter. There comes a certain point when it’s like, okay, I get it! This character has a missing daughter and he is looking for her! You don’t need to remind us of this literally every time we are taken to a scene with him.
There are a couple scenes that show how white people ruined the land of the Native Americans, one part being when the Arikara chief is speaking to the main French guy.
Another part is when Bridger and Fitzgerald walk through an abandoned tribe area, and Fitzgerald sees a watch. He goes to pick it up says how, “They’re always stealing out [stuff].” Which is obviously ironic, since it’s the white people that stole the Native American land and claimed it as their own.
In the movie, as said, Glass had been married to a Pawnee woman, and so his son is half native American and Glass speaks Pawnee. In the book (and real life) this wasn’t the case. In the book there is a story about how before the events that we are reading about, he was taken by Pawnee, but using his ingenious, ended up becoming part of their tribe in a way and learned much from them. Later, when trying to survive after the bear attack, he comes across an abandoned Native American area. He see’s a woman there who is blind and he cooks her some meat (a nearby dog that he kills) and some broth for her. She dies the next morning, and he builds the thing to put her dead body on. Other Native Americans come across him while he is doing this, and take him in.
Their medicine doctor treats his wounds. They pick a maggot off his back and show him. He is so disgusted that his body has been taken over by maggots that he throws up. The medicining man makes a concoction which is a mix of bull urine and gunpowder which he boils and pours over his back. He is in and out of consciousness for a couple days while undergoing this treatment. It works though and his back begins to truly heal. These Natives then help him get to the nearby fort.
In the movie, he comes across a native American who has fought some wolves for their buffalo kill (by the way, in the book it is Glass who uses fire to scare wolves and steals their kill from them). He becomes friends with this man and he helps him greatly. They don’t show maggots on his back, but the man does tell him his body is rotting. During a snowstorm the guy builds a fort with branches and hide, and tends to Glass’s wounds. We aren’t sure how long Glass is in there, but when he comes to, he leaves the tent and finds that the Native has been hung by the Frenchmen.
In the movie, the French are dirty dealers with the Arikara, and it is them who have kidnapped the chiefs daughter. After finding the body of his friend, Glass finds the horse with the French, and he also saves the chief’s daughter.
In the book, after he is abandoned, rather than go the father distance to where Henry and Fitzgerald are heading, he goes in the opposite direction where he knows there is a fort nearby. Once at the fort, he is able to get some rest, get supplies and prepare to head back in the direction the Rocky Mountain Fur Co were going. He is convinced to hold off for a few days, and leave with a group of French guys who are going in that same direction.
He leaves with them and things go well until they are attacked by Arikara. Only three are left alive, but before long they are once again attacked and Glass is left to travel on his own once more. These scenes I liked, because in both cases there was a man who was on the verge of death, but Glass has to leave because if he stays with the dying man, he will be killed. This is the same situation Fitzgerald and Bridger were in (in the book I believe Fitzgerald was telling the truth and the Arikara really were approaching). Going back to how Glass doesn’t fault them for leaving him, it was the fact that they robbed him that he seeks revenge for.
Speaking of, in the book Glass is constantly thinking about Bridger and Fitzgerald and how they done him wrong. I get that that’s the whole point of this book, but it just seemed redundant at times. The movie shows this, by having Glass write Fitzgerald’s name in places and writing “Fitzgerald killed my son.” One section in the book reads, “For the first time that day, he thought about the men who abandoned him. His rage grew as he stared at the doe. Abandonment seemed too benign to describe their treachery. Abandonment was a passive act—running away or leaving something behind. If his keepers had done no more than abandon him, he would at this moment be sighting down the barrel of his gun, about to shoot the deer. He would be using his knife to butcher the animal, and sparking his flint against steel to start a fire and cook it. He looked down at himself, wet from head to toe, wounded, reeking from the skunk, the bitter taste of roots still in his mouth. What Fitzgerald and Bridger had done was much more than abandonment, much worse. These were not mere passersby on the road to Jericho, looking away and crossing to the other side. Glass felt no entitlement to a Samaritan’s care, but he did at least expect that his keepers do no harm. Fitzgerald and Bridger had acted deliberately, robbed him of the few possessions he might have used to save himself. And in stealing from him this opportunity, they had killed him. Murdered him, as surely as a knife in the heart or a bullet in the brain. Murdered him, except he would not die. Would not die, he vowed, because he would live to kill his killers.”
In the book, Fitzgerald is tired of Henry and wants out. He deserts the fort before New Year’s Eve before even realizing Glass is still alive. While he is leaving, Glass is very close to the fort. They hear each other in the night, but neither realizes who the other is, so that was a cool scene.
Once Fitzgerald reaches a different fort, he hears about a badly scared man who had been there and that’s when he realizes Glass is alive.
Glass eventually makes his way to another town, after being at the fort with Henry and Bridger and them. He leaves with two other men, both of whom also are killed by Arikara.
When Glass reaches this new fort, he asks about Fitzgerald and the man tells him that Fitzgerald is there and joined the army. The reason he joined, was because he shot a man and could either enlist, or go to jail. Glass tells him what Fitzgerald does. The guy tells Glass this isn’t the wild west basically, and says they will file the charges. They end up meeting in court, where Glass and then Fitzgerald tell their side of the story. The judge buys Fitzgerald’s act and Glass is so upset he pulls a gun out and shoots him, but only hits his shoulder. Glass is then taken to jail but is bailed out from a friend from one of the forts he had been to.
This scene just felt so anticlimactic. This whole time he is in search of Fitzgerald, and when he finds him, we are given a court room scene?? This isn’t even what really happened, this is what Punke decided to have happen. I mean come on, if you’re going to make up their confrontation, you could have at least made it interesting!
In the end though, the friend that bails him out tells him he should move on with his life but Glass is fixated on Fitzgerald. The man then tells him, ““…there are none so deaf as those that will not hear. Why did you come to the frontier?” demanded Kiowa. “To track down a common thief? To revel in a moment’s revenge? I thought there was more to you than that.” “
Earlier in the book, Glass was looking at the stars and found Orion who I guess is known as seeking his revenge or something like that. In the end, after talking with this friends, Glass looks to the stars once more but his time can’t find Orion. The last paragraph reads, “Stars danced on the dark water, their reflection like a marker of the heavens against the earth. Glass searched the sky for his beacons. He found the sloping tails of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the steady comfort of the North Star. Where’s Orion? Where’s the hunter with his vengeful sword? The brilliant sparkle of the great star Vega seemed suddenly to fight for Glass’s attention. Next to Vega he picked out the Cygnus, the Swan. Glass stared at Cygnus, and the more he stared, the more its perpendicular lines seemed clearly to form a cross. The Northern Cross. That was the common name for Cygnus, he remembered. It seemed more fitting.” Despite my complaints about the court room scene, I thought this was a beautiful way to end the story.
In the movie, Glass and Henry go in search of Fitzgerald. Henry finds him first and Fitzgerald shoots him and leaves. Glass finds Henry’s body and takes it with him as he continues his search. He uses Henry’s body to sit on the main horse, while Glass pretends to be the dead body. This lures Fitzgerald to him because Fitzgerald falsely thinks he has shot Glass when really he had just shot Henry’s dead body that was propped up.
Glass and Fitzgerald then have a hand to hand combat scene which is brilliantly filmed and choreographed. Glass has Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald tells him, “You came all this way just for your revenge, huh? Did you enjoy it, Glass?… ‘Cause there ain’t nothin’ gon’ bring your boy back.” Glass then reflects on the Native Amerian friend who was killed. That mans family was also killed and he had told Glass, “My heart bleeds. But revenge is in the creator’s hands.” As he is thinking this, he sees the Arikara across the river, and lets Fitzgerald’s body float over to them and they kill him.
The Arikara ride past, not harming Glass. He then sees the spirit of his wife, and she looks at him then walks off. We are left seeing Glass, as he breathes. It almost seems like is going to die, but his breathing continues as we fade to black. Glass also stares right into the camera in that last scene.
Themes in the movie
Breath is often talked about with Glass and his wife and son. A specific line is, “But you don’t give up. You hear me? As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.”
I think that is why we have the breathing shown so prominently in the end. He is still breathing, so he still lives to fight on. The story isn’t about getting his revenge, rather it is about learning that his revenge won’t fix anything. If his revenge stayed important till the end, he would have killed Fitzgerald himself. I love a good revenge story, even a revenge story where the person does indeed kill the people they are getting revenge on. (For example Kill Bill 1 and 2 are amazing, and that’s one where she follows through with it). But I absolutely love the ones where by the end, the person lets go of their revenge; realizing that their obsession has just further robbed them of who they are or were.
Revenant means someone who has come back from the dead, and this theme of course is big in the movie as is the symbolism of rebirth. There are three scenes in particular:
- “Fitzgerald callously buried Glass in a somewhat shallow grave. While buried throughout the night and on the cusp of death due to his severe injuries from the bear attack, Glass has a soothing dream about his wife. This gives him encouragement to live. A while afterward, Glass gathered all of his strength and willpower to crawl out of the grave. Thus, he begins his journey through the wilderness.
- After Glass became seriously ill, Hikuc (the Native American who saves him, but is then killed by the French) treated his wounds with his medicinal methods and placed him in a hut to help him heal and to protect him from the snowstorm. During this sequence, the voice of a Pawnee woman, which is believed to be Glass’ wife, was reciting a poem about life and how one has to keep breathing. While asleep in the hut, he dreams about seeing and hugging his son while in the dilapidated church. This serves as a little bit of closure for Glass. The next morning, Glass emerges from the hut feeling physically better and rejuvenated.
- In order to protect himself from the storm and potentially threatening individuals and wild animals, Glass cuts open Hikuc’s deceased horse, removes the organs, removes his own clothing, and sleeps inside. The next morning, he cracks open the carcass and gets out. Him being nude, sleeping inside the horse’s body, and getting out of it is akin to a baby being born. After he gets out of the horse’s body, he appears as if he’s looking and observing the environment for the first time in his life.”
Speaking of the hut Hikuc builds, I read that the actor “Arthur RedCloud incorporated the teachings and medicine of his grandfather, who was a shaman, into his character, Hikuc. He himself even built the medicine hut that Hikuc places Glass in from memory of his grandfather’s teachings.”
Difficulty in Filming
This was not an easy film to be working on. Being in the elements for one, but also filming in chronological order could be difficult logistically. Then having to switch locations at the end because snow in Canada was melting so they had to move to the southern tip of Argentina.
“At one point during the production, Tom Hardy became very concerned with some of the stunts he had to do, especially since the production was already pretty hectic and troubled. This caused friction and turmoil between him and director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. At one point, out of self-deprecation, Iñárritu allowed Hardy to choke him out. The image was captured on camera and immortalized. After production wrapped, later on, Hardy gave T-shirts to all of the crew members of the image as gifts.”
I also read the Iñárritu had several crew members either quit of get fired due to the high pressure environment, not to mention the actual brutal weather environment. Iñárritu said, “As a director, if I identify a violin that is out of tune, I have to take that from the orchestra.”
I also read, Iñárritu was insistent that computer-generated imagery not be used to enhance the film, stating, “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit.” And I love that so much! He isn’t there is have a good time, but rather to make a masterpiece. This isn’t a laid back movie, so I think it makes sense that it isn’t exactly a laid back set.
Book or Movie
I think the movie took a gripping, incredible story, and made it even more incredible. This movie is just a piece of art in every sense of the world. I love that Iñárritu wasn’t trying to make a movie to please audiences and studios, rather make a movie that he could be proud of. Everything about it is impeccable.
The book is a great story, but I think for me personally, it just worked better in film. There were times when I kind of spaces out while reading some sections; whereas the movie, even though it’s about the same thing, captivated me the whole time. Even though the movie wins here, I would still recommend the book. There is a section at the end where he talks about the real history of these people and what happened to them. (In real life Henry wasn’t killed by the way).
All in all, it’s a great book but the movie is simply incredible.