You have two very specific questions about The Revenant, and we’ll get to those, promise. But first, let us discuss the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a über-badass 19th-century American outdoorsman, flees a party of bloodthirsty Native Americans, rides his horse off a cliff, lands in a giant Christmas tree, crashes to the ground, lies there unconscious for awhile, jolts awake, crawls over to the now-dead horse, guts it, strips naked, and slides inside it for warmth, pulling the stomach closed like a Carhartt coat. Three things:
1. This actually happens.
2. It is ridiculous.
3. It is also fuckin’ awesome.
Verily, director Alejandro González Iñárritu (drunk with power thanks to the Oscar he won for last year’s Birdman) and DiCaprio (impotent with rage thanks to the Oscar he has not won, for anything) have conspired here to make the artiest manly movie ever, or the manliest art movie ever, whichever is manlier. It is Blood Meridian as soundtracked by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; it is one of America’s finest and most famous actors going Full Dothraki. There’s a guy in this thing credited as “Dave Stomach Wound.” Chicks should not even bother. Like 12 dudes catch an arrow in the head in the first 10 minutes, the arrow thwoks as visceral and quotable as any of the dialogue, which peaks manliness-wise with the line “I need a horse and a gun.” Guess who. Shut up and get to the bear already. Okay, fine.
Because you are not an insane person, by now you surely realize that “Leonardo DiCaprio gets raped by a bear” is not an accurate way to describe this film, but that some dipshit could briefly convince Twitter that Leonardo DiCaprio gets raped by a bear is plenty bad enough. The bear thing is raw, man. It goes on for quite a while and looks not as fake as you are anticipating. You can watch it for yourself if you want. I am not in a position to tell you whether it’s “realistic” or not, as bear attacks/fights go, and I intend to keep it that way. Suffice it to say that the bear catches hands, and Leo catches, uh, claws and also teeth, and not to spoil who “wins,” but the bear does not get to ride a horse off a cliff. Leo, though, ends up mauled all to hell, and spends the better part of the next hour flat on his back, wheezing and groaning and flinging spittle in all directions. He’s like a late-period Tom Waits album. All of this, too, really happens / is ridiculous / is also fuckin’ awesome.
The plot is very simple and hardly matters: Menaced both by arrow-thwoking Native Americans and sniveling / giggling / lynching / raping / dying Frenchmen, Leo’s thoroughly shook hunting party ditches their pelts and, soon enough, Leo himself. He is betrayed most savagely by Tom Hardy, who makes a fine dirtbag-gravitas villain even though his coherence level is half-Bane and half Jeff Bridges in True Grit, which is to say get ready to Lean Forward. He gets in a few sweet / manly monologues, though, about the time he got scalped, and the other time his dad found God in the form of a squirrel and ate him. Much like Mad Max, really, the best thing Hardy does here is graciously concede that this ain’t his movie.
Yeah, it’s the bear’s. Just kidding. Leo shrieks and grunts and crawls out of his open grave. His facial hair is crusted with all kinds of viscera. He fogs the camera (just like the bear, actually) with what you are meant to fear is his final, shuddering breath. He tries to drink some water, which gloops right out of a giant wound in his neck, so he builds a fire, makes a li’l torch, and cauterizes himself. He finds many ways to enjoy his items. He starts walking again, because the movie realizes that there ain’t much of a movie if he can’t. He catches a fish with his bare hands and immediately bites it in half (just like a bear, actually). It’s an hour and a half before you see him puke, and I’d have definitely bet the under.
This brings us to your other question.
The Other Thing
The whole ballgame here is if The Revenant is beautiful and harrowing and compelling and manly enough to distract you from its sole reason for being, which is to win Leonard DiCaprio a goddamn Academy Award already. Iñárritu comes in handy here, his long takes lyrical and gorgeous and foreboding, whether you’re watching an avalanche unfold or wolves take down a bison or a torch-bearing search party glide through a forest. It’s all the prettier for how brutal it all is.
Not that the whole “grizzled men bonding over raw meat” thing doesn’t get a little silly. The Native American aspect, likewise, gets to feeling like that one Nelson video—Leo has an Indian wife, who, along with their son, functions largely as a walking dream sequence, bearing cigar-box wisdom on the order of “The wind cannot defeat a tree with strong roots.” But you do get a nice meet-semi-cute where Leo picks up a hunting buddy who amuses himself by trying to catch snowflakes on his tongue, resulting in probably the only intentionally funny moment in the movie, which is somehow reminiscent of this. But overall Iñárritu succeeds, at the very least, in preventing this whole rodeo from de-evolving into an Entourage-type ploy. The climax takes forever to arrive and is pretty unimaginative as revenge flicks go, but exhausting is way better than exasperating.
So my honest answer to the question “Will Leo win the goddamn Oscar for this” is “probably.” My honest answer to the question “How pissed were the people who worked on this movie when they realized ‘bear rape’ is all they’ll be talking about for the next month” is “extremely.” My honest answer to the question “how manly is this movie exactly” is “[a bear crashes through the wall of your office and gives you a wedgie].” The question “is this movie for pussies” was answered just yesterday, by one Peter Travers, in the negative. Another unwelcome distraction. There’s a lot of colossally stupid media chatter to tune out when it comes to watching The Revenant, but The Revenant will beat it out of you if it takes all day, and it will, and so it does.