Disagreeing with Carol Cadwalladr’s Assessment of THE REVENANT

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I couldn’t possibly disagree more with Carol Cadwalladr‘s assessment of THE REVENANT in her recent piece in The Guardian titled “The Revenant is Meaningless Pain Porn.”

I would agree that our culture displays a whole lot of meaningless violence, yes, even to a pornographic level, but of all the films to accuse of this, THE REVENANT is simply not one.

Yes, there’s pain. Yes, human suffering and graphic violence. But to minimize this film and place it alongside the hoards of films spit out by Hollywood each year disguised as entertainment but, instead, offering us vapid exercises (in, among other things, killing and human suffering), is to completely miss the point of the entire film.

I’m not going to pretend THE REVENANT is the deepest, most nuanced film of the year, but it is not a film glorifying revenge or using pain as a pornographic element. The underpinnings of man as part of nature, of man entering into a realm he does not understand simply to skin it alive with no understanding of what it is they are destroying — something within themselves — is in almost every frame of the film.


The bear attack isn’t just metaphor for rape or a rape replacement for a film that was afraid to take its story there, as Carol Cadwalladr suggest in her essay, but a statement on a primal drive. A parent protecting its child. The bear isn’t just attacking Hugh Glass, it IS Hugh Glass. And it is not just Hugh Glass who is “resurrected,” (as the film’s title suggests) but the bear.

THE REVENANT walks a fine line between brutal realism and mythology, all the while summoning a reckoning for, and an exploration of, the actions of the past and, as most great films do, the present. From the very opening shots of our intrusion into nature, both as part of it and as the part that goes against the stream, the flow, to hunt something ethereal, partially shrouded, something we cannot fully see or understand, something we will eventually tear apart and look inside without actually seeing or recognizing what’s in there… As the film does with the world inside John Fitzgerald’s (Tom Hardy) once opened skull… THE REVENANT isn’t afraid to look inside. It just doesn’t open these people up, it also explores and seeks.

To toss Alejandro González Iñárritu into the same category as a Michael Bay or an Eli Roth lacks a nuance of insight. Violence has a place in art and storyelling, particularly when it is addressed as directly as it is in THE REVENANT. But that requires being able to get past one’s own knee-jerk reaction. Carol Cadwalladr’s piece in The Guardian tells us far more about her than it does the film she is commenting on. That is, of course, almost always the case with reviews. But the best reviews have the ability to transcend the individual reviewer and look more deeply, to explore — as art asks us to do — to understand that oftentimes our reactions of disgust or sadness or horror are the appropriate reactions stirred in us by the film and filmmakers, and not a negative side effect of a misguided effort. It is the ability to separate the two  — the ability to look more deeply at oneself as recipient in the artistic landscape that is storytelling and filmmaking — that divides nuanced critics (the ones who question their own personal reactions and responses) from those who separate themselves from the work and point fingers and never seem to realize that it might be they themselves who are missing something or, as might be the case here, misdiagnosing the cure as cancer.
Disagreeing with Carol Cadwalladr’s Assessment of THE REVENANT

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