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Watched 'The Revenant'? It's Really Really Violent Isn't It, And That's OK

19/01/2016 16:48 GMT | Updated 19/01/2017 10:12 GMT

I think it's fair to say that I'm not a human that delights in seeing violence. That's not to say I shy away from it when it's presented to me, but I'm not going to be howling with maniacal laughter every time I pick up a copy of Grand Theft Auto.

That said, having seen the The Revenant I think one can safely surmise that the film contains enough violence for one film.

If you don't know the plot, I'll keep it brief: loosely based on a true story from the early 1800s, it depicts the perils faced by a group of fur hunters exploring what was then known as the Louisiana Purchase, led by the now legendary hunter and explorer Hugh Glass (played by DiCaprio).

Cut off from Western civilisation and under constant attack from the natives, the film explores how far one human (Glass) can really go when pushed to the absolute edge both physically and psychologically. He is betrayed, beaten, left for dead and then stripped of everything he held dear - safe to say this isn't a comedy.

the revenant

It is a comprehensively gory film that embraces violence and brutality like American Pie embraces sex jokes. The problem is that because the violence is so front and centre the film has been, in my view at least, misconceived in its intentions by many who have seen it.

For starters a well-read magazine described it as 'unthinkingly, aggressively masculine.' That was an error. By very definition using the term masculine immediately removes any time-sensitive considerations of gender roles and tries to place it into a modern context. This incidentally is the fundamental problem with many of the interpretations of this film.

The Revenant is not masculine in the sense that it has been designed and orchestrated to show men as the dominant force and women as the weaker. Indeed I would argue that one of the film's most harrowing moments is given to a women as she unleashes an eye-watering attack on a French trapper after herself suffering a horrific assault.

It is not then the gender that defines the violence, but the time period. This was a time when weapons were dirty, personal things which required physical effort and the deeply unswerving desire to kill, no matter what.

Muskets are not efficient weapons, they were slow cumbersome things that when put up against the fast-moving natives of America resulted in a form of combat that drove many Western settlers back to a level of violence that they generally perceived they'd 'evolved' from.

The Revenant shows this close-quarters violence with an unflinching eye but not once did I think it was gratuitous. People often argue that the mind can conjure far worse horrors than the screen can but for me this film was all about what the audience sees. From the breath of an actor misting up the lens to the astonishing single-take shot which captures a Native American ambush.

the revenant

To shy away from this would have jarred with the whole experience of the film. In this respect The Revenant is absolutely selfish, asking you to sit through nearly three hours of very little dialogue instead absorbing a visual world of beauty and brutality.

We have to remember that the world Hugh Glass inhabited was quite literally the end of the world for Western civilisation. These people may have been trawling through lands now familiar, but to many this was an outlandish alien surface that was utterly unforgiving. To compensate the people became unforgiving.

This then is my argument, and it's a simple one. Leave modern gender values at the door, disregard your assumptions on why films show violence and instead treat The Revenant for what it truly is: a view into a period of time during which civilised society was temporarily suspended, replaced instead with an breathtakingly soulless need to stay alive, no matter the cost.

the revenant

The Revenant isn't full of plot twists, it isn't a Hollywood blockbuster and it won't conform to the comforting set of rules that you'd assume would be present with an Oscar-nominated film. Instead it's unapologetically violent, brutally realistic and above all, unbelievably beautiful to look at.

If that sounds up your street, then perhaps you'll enjoy it, well, experience it.