I was lucky to be invited to an advanced screening of "The Revenant", and wanted to share some of my impressions of this fantastic film with you all.
--Spoilers follow! if you haven't seen the film yet, check it out and tell me what you thought!
The story takes place in 1823 South Dakota/Montana, and involves the struggle between white settlers, Nature, and Native American tribes. This film hit me on a personal note, being as it was during my stay with a Native American family in South Dakota that I was first shown the truth about the interconnected nature of our Universe.
Throughout the film's many beautiful shots, Nature seems to witness the affairs of man with cold indifference, and at times approval. Glass experiences the savagery of men, and then sees this mirrored by the animals and elements around him on his journey for vengeance. This is an important statement in regards to Living Pantheism and morality: regardless of our ideal sense of right and wrong, the only thing that exists is Natural Law.
Causality and the interconnected nature of the Universe are a dominant theme of "The Revenant". In the following paragraphs, I'll attempt to explain the archetypes each character represents, and how they eventually intersect.
Glass is seemingly a tool of fate, with every terrible event pushing him towards his unavoidable collision with his son's murderer. His character is a representation of "the fool’s journey"; after his son's death his old life effectively ends, and he is reborn as 'the revenant', or “the fool” on his journey towards universal wisdom. His name suggests the fragile nature of human life, a theme we’ll return to later.
Fitzgerald, a broken man who commits senseless violence in a vain grasp for control, represents Christianity. He rationalizes despicable acts while invoking "Jesus", and speaks of his father's encounter with God, whom he saw in a squirrel that he immediately killed and ate. This is a metaphor for how Christians 'kill' God(Nature), and attempt to replace God(Nature) with their own personal delusions.
Bridger, Fitzgerald's travelling companion, is gripped by fear and cowardice. He attempts to reconcile for the atrocities he witnesses with small trinkets of food and water, yet he is unable to bring himself to act. Bridger unfortunately represents many of us, who are afraid to act for fear of death or consequence. Yet he faces consequences anyways. His eventual fate is a grim fable, echoing Bruno's words: "...whoever is silent is understood to give his assent."
Andrew, Glass and Fitzgerald’s employer, represents capitalism. Like Christians, he makes futile grasps to dominate men and Nature, yet he uses money in place of dogma. Andrew exploits natural resources for personal gain, which he then uses as leverage to keep his employees indebted to his company. This vicious cycle is unsustainable, and eventually backfires when he is consumed by the forces he is trying to control.
The final character we’ll discuss is the Native guide who befriends and aides Glass. In a pivotal moment, the guide shares a raw buffalo carcass with Glass. Though Glass initially gags at the taste, he experiences a sudden change in perspective, and is able to enjoy his meal. At this moment, Glass is rejecting his previous conceptions of “good” and “bad”, and simply accepting what “is”. This is further emphasized when in the face of a blizzard, the guide smiles and sticks out his tongue to catch snowflakes. Glass smiles and joins in, even while his life begins to fade away. The guide represents the Luminaries, humbly walking the path, and helping others who are lost.
After Glass eventually catches and subdues Fitzgerald, he collides with fate and sees the Native princess he rescued waiting downstream with her tribe. Glass experiences a sudden understanding of the Universe, and the chain of causality. Abandoning vengeance, he pushes Fitzgerald downstream, where he meets his end. Like the forces of Nature, the Native tribe passes by Glass with a mix of indifference and quiet approval. Having received the wisdom of the Universe, Glass aligns himself according to Natural Law.
The final theme of the film is revealed during the final intersection of all the characters. Before Glass confronts Fitzgerald, he has a conversation with Andrew while they are camping. Overnight, Andrew has lost all of his money (control), and is now reflecting on his wife, whom he has been apart from for so long that he can no longer recall her face. This is important, as it summarizes the final theme, and we’ll come back to it in a moment.
After Glass leaves Fitzgerald’s corpse, and the Native people, he experiences a final vision of his deceased wife. After a touching moment, the vision of her turns and walks away, leaving the camera fixed on Glass who for the first time begins to openly cry. This moment in the film represents the idea of Transmigration in Living Pantheism. When we die, everything we are becomes other things, and we cease to remember our previous forms. As Bruno said:
“Fate has ordained prayers, as much for obtaining as for not obtaining; and in order not to burden too much the transmigrating souls it interposes the drinking from the Lethean River (to forget) in the midst of the transformations, so that through oblivion everyone may be especially affected and eager to preserve himself in his present state.”
Andrew died having forgotten his wife’s face. In a similar manner, Having received Universal wisdom, Glass realized that when he died his memories would remain behind. Thus, he wept.
“The Revenant” ends, leaving us to decide how to deal with Glass’ revelations. His sadness is a sadness shared by all mankind. Some attempt to overcome our fear of loss by inventing an afterlife, where we remain in our present state without change, united with loved ones for all eternity. Personally, I hope we all walk away from the film with a renewed appreciation for life, and the courage to face the things we’ve been avoiding. Though it is scary, and sad to imagine leaving our lives behind someday, I hope we will be able to face that impending change with a sense of bittersweet Joy; sadness for leaving behind beautiful memories, and excitement for all that lies ahead.