a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.
“he was three hundred years old, a terrible living revenant”
Leonardo Di Caprio is Oscar nominated for Best Actor at this years Academy Awards for his role in The Revenant. He plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and frontiersman who endures great physical hardships in the Montana wilderness of the 1820s.
The film is based on the true story of Glass, who endured a mauling by a she-bear and abandoned by his companions, survived quite miraculously to cover several hundred kilometers of harsh wilderness and return to the nearest settlement.
The story has been retold in many forms, mostly examining what incredible fortitude was required to not only survive the ordeal but to cover so much territory alone. Upon arrival Glass, sought out his two companions, the ones who left him for dead, and promptly forgave them.
Versions of the story including this film explore the nuances of Glass’s journey and what motivated him – primarily a quest for justice. In this case – revenge.
The film is set against the backdrop of a warring Indigenous group the Arikara, a benevolent tribe the Pawnee, bloodthirsty French, British and American fur traders and the harsh North American winter.
It flips Hollywood stereotypes of whiteman vs Indian, showing up the wickedness and bloodlust of both sides, each with their own complex motives for revenge. Most significantly it draws on a lesser known detail of Glass’s life, that he married a Pawnee woman and had a child by her.
Revenge is so closely tied to love. One cannot simply rest when one we love is killed or hurt. In a world without justice, one man is left to seek it anyway he can find it. The justice of the tale then is the harsh wilderness they inhabit.The Indigenous people have their own rough justice and honor system. Amongst it all, Glass is one man, who both loves deeply and endures, in an herculean effort to return to face the man who did him wrong.
Revenge is a dish better served cold is perhaps the phrase to underscore the film. The Revenant is an epic tragedy with great performances. Not for squeamish or the faint of heart.
It is fascinating to discover that Arthur Miller’s brilliant 1953 play, “The Crucible” which portrays the 17th century Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, is in fact an allegory of the political climate of his day.
The play, which recounts the circumstances surrounding the trial and execution of various New Englanders on charges of witchcraft, is used by Miller to allude to the blacklisting of many US citizens by the McCarthy administration. In the 1950s the US Government, led by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, accused, publicly shamed and even imprisoned many thinkers, political activists, writers, artists, actors and film-directors on charges of communism and homosexuality.
Labelled the Second Red Scare, or McCarthyism the era epitomised the making of unfair or unjustified allegations and the use of unfair investigation to restrict political dissent. Heightened by Cold War tensions, claims that communist spies and Soviet sympathisers had infiltrated the US abounded. It seems McCarthy did not stop a communists, but also targeted and threatened to expose prominent homosexuals and free thinkers in education institution, unions and in Hollywood.
Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives in 1956. Despite this or perhaps due to this, his play became a classic and remains and timeless reminder of the power of propaganda, the destructiveness of fear driven ideals.
“Witch hunting” becomes a powerful metaphor for the desire to prosecute, expose and punish dissenters or those representing the unknown element.
With political tensions heightened in our own “war on terror”, it’s still as relevant as ever to consider deeply who and what we are seeking to expose, prosecute and punish.