“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” — Carl Sagan

It starts softly as we watch a band of trappers, a mixed bunch of French, Irish and German mountain and boat men, gutting a herd of moose and loading up beaver pelts for the trip back down. Blood and guts cover the scene. Hold tight, it won’t be the last of it.

We’ve seen this scene many times on television and in films, documentaries, but in the hands of the brilliant director Alejandro Inarritu and certainly in the artistry of costumer Jacqueline West, it stands alone as the most realistic detailing of a gathering ever shot. The clothing, the speech, the makeup, every detail is authentic. It feels as though we’re actually watching the real thing.

Then, without warning, it all goes Quentin Tarantino-ish. A naked man comes running toward the encampment, staggering, trying to cry out a warning, his body brutally carved. For the next two hours and 36 minutes, one horror follows another. Arrows fly through hearts, skulls, livers and throats.

So begins “The Revenant,” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s 200-mile crawl back to life, not counting the 10 feet down the red carpet to his Oscar.

With Inarritu we’ve come light years from John Ford’s soft-centered, romanticized view of the old West. I regret to say it makes my personal all-time favorite “Jeremiah Johnson” with the permanently cute Robert Redford look like “Little House on the Prairie,” and DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass, with only a few mumbled words of dialog in the entire film, leaves Redford looking like, well … a movie star.

Prepare yourself for the now famous bear attack scene in which our hero, Hugh Glass, (Leonardo DiCaprio, of course) meets a bear from Hell. The dismantling of Hugh Glass seems to take all of 30 minutes of gnashing, clawing, biting, ripping, tearing, chewing and even a few bear swallows of flesh.

This very long, almost unwatchable scene will surely go down in film history as suitable for framing. Imagine how it must have felt to poor Leo, who has never been bitten by anything scarier than a blonde.

Finally, Hugh’s body is found nearly dead under a very dead mama bear at the bottom of an arroyo. His mates but for one truly malevolent baddie (Tom Hardy), bundle him up and try to take him home. When they see that they won’t make it by carting him, they leave him in the care of the evil Hardy and a boy and go for help. What could go wrong? Things you can’t imagine and don’t want to think about.

“The Revenant” itself is one stunning, glorious shot after another, all due to the gifts of the great Emmanuel Lubezki (“Birdman,” “Gravity,” “Children of Men”). In a very real sense, the movie belongs to Emmanuel, just as “The Starry Night” belongs to Van Gogh. His eye, his vision and his imagination make him the true artistic godchild of the master Vilmos Zsigmond.

The great shots are beautifully enhanced by the haunting music of Carsten Nicolai and especially the Asian echoes of Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The cast is perfect, from Tom Hardy’s heartless villain and Forrest Goodluck as DiCaprio’s half-breed son right down to the mute beauty of Melaw Nakehk’o as the chief’s daughter, Powaqa.

Where they got all of those frightening native sons, I can’t imagine.

“The Revenant” is probably the most realistic and violent survival movie ever made, but absolutely one of the most breathtaking.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor and author of “Will Write For Food.”


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