EXUENT PURSUED BY A BEAR: The Revenant and Anomalisa


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Warning: SPOILERS
revenant 3The Revenant is, perhaps, one of the most visceral movies you will see in some time. Everybody involved, from the technicians to the designers to the screenwriters (Mark L. Smith and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu from a novel by Michael Punka), to the director (Inarritu) seemed to have gone out of their way to give the movie a feeling of verisimilitude that can be matched by few films.
The dirty bodies and clothes and rotting teeth (you can almost smell the bad breath); the zip of an arrow through a man’s throat; the blood flowing from wounds made by knifes, bullets and hatchets; and the never ending harsh environment of snow and icy rivers (I almost caught the flu) are all paraded proudly for public consumption.
This is probably best demonstrated with what may now be the infamous bear attack scene in which our hero (Hugh Glass, played very bravely and stoically by Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled, bitten and strewn all over the place by a mama grizzly fearing for her cubs. It’s an amazing bit of filmmaking and in many ways deserves all the praise it has earned.
And it goes on for a very long time.

 

revenant 1The story in many ways is quite simple. In the 1800’s, a group of men who are out gathering beaver pelts are surprised by a group of Arikara. Only a few of the men are left, including their guide Glass and his half native son.

 

After the bear attack, Glass is too weak to walk on his own, so the head of the group offers a bonus to anyone willing to stay with Glass until he gets better or, as is more likely, dies. Unfortunately for Glass, one of the two men is trapper John Fitzgerald, a racist sociopath. After everyone is gone, Fitzgerald kills Glass’s son and buries Glass alive. But Glass doesn’t die. He pulls himself out of his grave and vows to find Fitzgerald and exact revenge.

 

At the same time, as simple as the story seems, the authors are very clever in the way they bring together the various through lines and have them all impinge upon one another in the final act. In many ways, the construction is rather graceful.

 

Still, I’m not sure how to react to The Revenant. It’s definitely a remarkable achievement. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is easily the finest to be seen in some time. The technical aspects of the movie as well as the design are first rate. It’s a stunning film.

 

revenant 2And the acting, especially by Tom Hardy as bad guy Fitzgerald, is also something to be lauded.

 

At the same time, I’m not sure it grabbed me as much as it has others. It’s a remarkably well done movie, but I’m not sure what its point is.

 

All we really do is see a bunch of men suffer and suffer and suffer and suffer and suffer in gory and exact detail (it’s the perfect film for those of the S&M persuasion), but I’m not sure to any real purpose except for the filmmakers to prove how good they are.

 

I suppose the best way to describe The Revenant is that it is something that doesn’t do anything, but does it very well.

 

At the same time, I did feel there was something missing. I can’t really put my finger on it. I want to say that the problem is that it’s not a particularly enjoyable movie to watch. And though one empathizes with Glass’s desire to seek revenge, I’m not sure we got to know him well enough to really have an emotional stake in the situation.

 

Perhaps the issue is that we see Glass’s body suffering and suffering, and suffering, but not his soul.

 

And the ending is a bit disingenuous. As Glass is about to kill Fitzgerald, he sees the Arikari arrive. He tells Fitzgerald that it’s not right for him to exact revenge, that that should be in God’s hands. With that, he pushes the still alive Fitzgerald into the river and lets the current carry the body to the Native Americans, who do what they are expected to do.

 

Glass may consider that vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. I say it’s vengeance by proxy with some plausible deniability attached.

 

With Domhnall Gleeson, who is all over the place this year (you can also catch him in Brooklyn and Star Wars), as Captain Henry, and Lukas Haas as Jones.

 

The motive for Glass’s going after Fitzgerald are less sympathetic in the novel where his goal is to get his stuff back that Fitzgerald took as his. The change in the story was probably a good idea.

 

anomalisa 2Anomalisa, the new piece of animated whimsy from writer Charlie Kaufman (who also directed, along with Duke Johnson) revolves around Michael Stone, an author who has written a popular book on customer service, and what transpires when he travels to Cincinnati to give a speech.

 

Stone is having one of those mid-life crisis thingies, so he ends up using and disposing of a young woman he has sex with; bungles his speech; has a nightmare where a male customer service head declares his love for him; and returns home no wiser, but infinitely much sadder.

 

The movie itself has a couple of interesting conceits. Everyone Stone meets all look alike as well as all sound alike. The only exception is Lisa Hesselman, the groupie Stone picks up (yes, in this movie even a paunchy, older, Debbie Downer author of a book on customer service has groupies—whoda thunk it) who transforms into an individual face and voice when Stone falls in love with her—but only until he falls out of love with her, whereupon she returns to the same face and voice as everyone else.

 

How you feel about the movie will probably depend upon how you feel about the central character. I found him boring and more than a bit of an asshole.

 

anomalisa 1I think we’re supposed to empathize with him because he’s going through that mid-life crisis thingy I referred to earlier, which I guess for many men is as good an excuse as any to be more than a bit of an asshole. But we are never really clued in as to what brought this crisis on and what the cause of it is. And so I never could really work up an emotional stake in his story.

 

And I also think we’re supposed to see his interaction with Lisa to be an exception to his life, something special that has never happened before. But to me, the way it was dramatized, it felt more like something he does every time he travels to promote his book.

 

The whole story felt just a bit too familiar and been there, done that to work its magic on me.

 

I must admit that the animation itself is very impressive. It’s both highly realistic (you can see the individual pores on a character’s face) while being highly stylized and its own thing.

 

The downside to this is that the more realistic it is when it comes to character movements, the more lethargic the forward momentum is (in animation, if a character walks as realistically as a real person, it always feels as if the animated character is moving slower than they would in reality). In some way, this probably contributes to the concept since Stone’s life is one of little but lethargy. Still, I did feel the enervation entering me as well as I was watching it.

 

With David Thewlis providing the voice of Stone; Jennifer Jason Leigh the voice of Lisa; and Tom Noonan the voice of everyone else.

 

 

 

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