Making The Revenant into a Transcendent Journey

The metaphysical description keeps popping up in regard to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s vision for The Revenant. It’s not merely a man-versus-nature struggle, but also a death-and-rebirth journey for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass. Production designer Jack Fisk finds the filmmaker more physical than Terrence Malick: like a wrestler who puts everyone in his powerful grip.

“The setting and wardrobe and the props were so real,” Fisk added. “We were [instructed] on how to deal with the environment—how to build a fire with flint and steel and how much wood it would take to keep a fire going to keep you warm at night. It’s not for you or against you but just there, and you have to make it work for you.”

And Fisk passionately embraced the outdoor settings: he built a fort with a pallet of wood that was being discarded by the Park Service, and created a “dilapidated” church that became a haunting dreamscape.

Costume designer Jacqueline West also embraced the period authenticity as well as the metaphysical subtext. “I showed Alejandro a drawing from that period by [Swiss painter] Karl Bodmer of a native in a hood,” she recalled. “Alejandro has such a visceral reaction to things and he loved that very much. And I took a Russian icon of a monk in the same hood almost and he put the two together and that began the germ of the creation of Leo’s look because nature is his procedural, and there’s a commune with the animals where they’re getting by in this world, in this vast church of nature, together. Whereas the other trappers have either mercenary or monetary aspirations joining the American fur trading company. Hugh Glass is looking for something much more spiritual.”

For sound editor Randy Thom, the journey was about humility. “You have this clash of egos between Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy and this man-versus-nature journey becomes a humbling experience.”

Nature, in fact, became a sonic character in the best immersive sense. Thom had to find existing sounds: bear vocalizations or trees creaking in the wind were recorded in real places much like the Canadian locations they filmed in.

The opening Native American ambush had an ebb and flow and the challenge was figuring out which sounds should be subordinated or pushed away. Most effective was the lull between action, with footsteps, wind in the trees and distant dogs barking in between the next flurry of arrows.

Unlike Birdman, editor Stephen Mirrione couldn’t rely on dialogue to anchor the narrative, and because of the wide lenses and vast landscape, a lot of the camera work was on cranes, which changed the rhythm. Once again, they started with blocking rehearsals, but there were many more moving pieces to play with. Plus, they shot in continuity.

The opening ambush contains shifting points of view and emotional beats, alternating between realism and the abstract. The bear attack contains even greater intensity and sublimity, creating empathy for the grizzly as a mother just protecting her cubs, and Glass emerging from the death-grip as a more spiritually aware person.

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Uncategorized

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