160109therevenantFrom the frequent advertisements seen everywhere for Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Revenant,” it would be natural to assume it’s a heart-pounding outdoor revenge thriller, following a man chasing his son’s killer through an icy wilderness.

But surprise! It’s not quite what you might expect.

For starters, it’s more about the man’s survival – like a pioneer version of Bear Grylls (of “Man vs. Wild”) on steroids – than it is about a chase. In fact, there’s only about 10 minutes of chase, compared to 120 minutes of survival.

It’s also surprising to see the film is deliberately artsy, focusing on beautiful, lingering shots of the wilderness. And trees. And more lingering. And trees. And symbolism. And more lingering and trees, and …

Which leads to perhaps the biggest surprise of all: Outside of three or four incredible action scenes, most of “The Revenant” … is boring.

Not all of it, mind you. When the action does kick in, it’s shocking and visceral. An opening battle scene is one of the most intense such scenes ever captured on film. The bear-attack scene is absolutely horrifying. The panoramas are gorgeous. Visually, this is a stunning movie. And some of its scenes will linger in both the memory and moviemaking lore for years.

But the director spent so much time framing his establishment shots and so much time on his “wind in the trees” metaphor, the movie ran about 30 minutes longer than it needed to and about 50 minutes longer than its story justified.

I mean, I know what he’s doing: He’s giving audiences a chance to breathe, to process, before he ramps it up to disembowel your mind with his next action scene. But the film still drags. And it doesn’t help that one of the main characters mumbles his lines so badly, half the film’s dialogue in indecipherable.

And yet, “disembowel your mind” is exactly the phrase I mean. For another major surprise in this movie is how deliberately, shockingly gruesome it is. And unlike the blood-spurting moments of some chainsaw massacre movie or Monty Python’s black knight, the realism of “The Revenant” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. “The Revenant” makes the D-Day invasion in “Saving Private Ryan” look tame. Some audience members may walk out (or throw up) because of its intensity.

I get the feeling this movie was made for critics and Hollywood types, who have already seen so many movies, they’re desensitized to what moves the rest of us. So pure shock value drives this movie, and I could tell many of the people in my theater were, frankly, disturbed by it.

The final surprise, however, is much more intriguing to me. DiCaprio’s character derives superhuman endurance from his thirst for revenge, repeating his mantra, “Fitzgerald killed my son,” to motivate himself to persevere.

But during his desperate survival days, he befriends a Native American who tells him, “Revenge is in the Creator’s hands.”

The positive, and even biblical, statement is a pleasant surprise. And its effect on DiCaprio’s character is as well, though I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers.

What’s not surprising, unfortunately, are some of the film’s symbolism and themes that reinforce the same ol’ leftist narratives. Namely, “red man good, white man bad,” Christianity is a farce that the heinous use to feel morally superior or to excuse their crimes, humanity is a blood stain on the purity of nature, etc.

Audiences get the obligatory Native American chief stating, “You have stolen everything from us. The land, the animals, my daughter,” and the film relies on a hero who gave up life among the white men to marry a Native American girl and live in a wigwam. I mean, otherwise, how could he be the hero?

It’s also sadly not surprising that “The Revenant,” rated R, pushes the boundaries on violence and gore and is filled with foul language and unnecessarily graphic sexuality.

In the end, “The Revenant” is a mix of captivating beauty and horrifying ugliness, of positive messages and propaganda, of thrill and doldrums made by an artist both talented and foolish (in the biblical sense). And I’m just not willing to say appreciating the good is worth wading through the bad.

Content advisory:

  • “The Revenant,” rated R, contains roughly 60 obscenities and profanities, many of them strong.
  • The film has some graphic sexuality, including nude rear views of men, some lewd comments, and a rape scene that shows no nudity, but includes thrusting and moaning. A drunken party scene includes two men dancing with one another that may or may not be a homosexual reference.
  • The film has several exceptionally violent and gruesome scenes and includes and extreme amount of blood, gore and wounds of various kinds. Startling, shocking deaths happen several times on screen, several dead and dismembered bodies are depicted and at least three “combat” scenes involve repeated, gruesome injury. This is truly a more gory film than many “slasher” horror flicks.
  • The film contains several religious references and some Native American elements, including a sweat-lodge experience that leads to dreams and other scenes with visions of a dead woman. There are indistinguishable tattoos of various symbols and indecipherable Native American speech. Similarly, there’s a prayer that mentions Jesus, but most of the words are hard to understand, the ruins of a church that once boasted elaborate religious murals, and references to last rites, “taking the sacrament,” and saying the Lord’s Prayer. There’s also an extensive story about a man who “found religion,” and much of it is hard to understand because of the actor’s mumbling, but it concludes with the idea that the man found “God” was just a squirrel, and he killed and “ate the son of a b—-.”

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