If there's one thing you should know about me, it's that I LOVE a good revenge story. Oh, I know he who seeks vengeance should dig two graves and all, but give me an eye for an eye over forgiveness any day, and The Revenant delivered.
I believe I watched the movie around the time it came out, in 2015. I wasn't exactly allowed to watch R rated movies when I was so young, but I think my mom liked it, so when she rewatched it she let me come along for the ride. In any case, I had no memory of the film. I learned recently that it was adapted from a book, and decided I wanted to read it and watch the movie again. My mom has been desperate for things to read lately, so I asked her to read it as well, and we watched the movie together after finishing the novel.
The book is fucking BRILLIANT—grueling, captivating, thrilling. Based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a trapper in the 1820s, it recounts the harrowing bear attack that leaves him incapacitated. He's been traveling the frigid Dakota region with a group of other trappers, and they elect to leave him behind, believing he will succumb to his injuries. After being offered monetary incentive, two men, Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, agree to remain with him to give him a proper burial. Naturally, they abandon him when a party of hostile Native Americans travels too close to their camp. As if simply abandoning Glass wasn't enough, Fitzgerald and Bridger rob him of his belongings, including his fine Anstadt rifle. The expertly crafted weapon is elegant and deadly, "the one extravagance of his life." Unforgivable. Alone and suffering from his wounds, he survives, against all odds, and pursues those who wronged him across hundreds of miles of wilderness.
Punke tells the story in a clear, matter-of-fact way. I haven't read many stories of a biographical nature, but something about this assertive account of events really held my attention. I genuinely couldn't put it down. I don't have any criticism or complaints about ANYTHING in the book, which is rare coming from me.
As for the movie, I'm sure it was well-produced, given all the awards it won, but it deviated from the book far too much for my tastes. I kind of quit paying attention like halfway through and only tuned in to comment on how stupid it was. All the changes were so pointless! The book was incredible, I can't even begin to imagine why they felt the need to change it so much. I guess moviegoers need everything sensationalized so they don't have to do any extrapolation on their part.
The most egregious alteration is that they decided Glass needed a son. It's extremely obvious from the first few minutes of the film that this son is killed by Fitzgerald. Glass feels the need to avenge his loss, which COMPLETELY changes the themes of revenge in the novel. Hunting down Fitzgerald would not bring his son back.
Killing Fitzgerald would not bring his son back.
The movie makes that clear. In the book, though, Glass absolutely can reclaim what was taken from him: his rifle. This change is truly a devastating loss for us revenge enjoyers.
Another issue I had is that they cut the encounters and experiences he had during his trek, replacing them with a strange B-plot that tries to paint the Native American attacks as a response to white trappers kidnapping a chief's daughter... I think? Whatever their intentions were, it has nothing to do with Glass and his story. In the novel, the meetings he has further his journey and develop the readers' perception of the world he lives in. They demonstrate his intelligence and resourcefulness, traits which enabled him to recover from his injuries and survive in the harsh climate. Most of his experiences are also just fucking BADASS. One scene I was devastated about not seeing in the film is when he fights wolves off a buffalo carcass with burning branches. While a thunderstorm rages around him. I don't care how much Punke fabricated this scene, it's EPIC. It makes far more sense in Glass's tale than whatever was going on in the movie.
It almost feels like a slap in the face to the author, who put so much effort into research for the novel. Personally, I would be—at the very least—somewhat irritated by the drastic changes the filmmakers made to the story, even if they did pull off one gnarly bear attack, and they filmed a lot of it under brutal weather conditions in Canada, and Leonardo DiCaprio was dedicated enough to eat raw bison liver. (Unfortunately, Punke has not been free to comment on the film due to his position as a World Trade Organization ambassador.) Not to mention the insult to the real Hugh Glass, dead for nearly 200 years now, who did not have any documented children and
most certainly did not kill Fitzgerald in his pursuit of vengeance.
Well, I actually really loved the book. I've never been one for historical fiction or anything, but it's pretty fucking awesome and I will read it again. As for the film, I wish I hadn't even bothered with it.
Review written August 2023.