They say the book is always better than the movie, and in the case of The Revenant, that is certainly true. Don’t misunderstand, the film is breathtaking. The visuals are absolutely amazing, and Tom Hardy is phenomenal.
Honestly, if I hadn’t read the book literally in the days before viewing the movie, I very well could have felt the frontier movie a masterpiece. But, as it stands, the film dove into fairly familiar waters while abandoning its source material.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, an actual historical figure who survived a bear mauling only to be left behind by his partners when it seemed obvious he would not survive. But lived he did, and he sought two men in particular to punish for committing an abomination against him. One of those men is Fitzgerald played by Tom Hardy, and in both the book and the movie you are unlikely to find a more unsettling fellow.
The movie depicts Glass as a heroic man, a decent man, a man with a just cause. The film follows a fairly linear course, is paced well, and, again, provides beautiful landscapes for the audience to behold.
But, truthfully, I can’t say I felt satisfied by the movie.
To find out why, I’m going to have to discuss important aspects of both the movie and the book, so there will be spoilers if you continue …
In the movie, Fitzgerald kills Glass’ son when the young man protests leaving Glass behind. Glass already lost the boy’s mother as well as her entire tribe that took him in. His son, Hawk, was literally the last good thing he had, and Fitzgerald slid a knife between his ribs. That is Glass’ motivation to survive and hunt Fitzgerald down. While doing so, he saved an Indian woman taken prisoner and regularly raped by her French captors. Her father, an important chief, later repaid Glass’ brave act.
Here’s the problem – none of that happened in the book. The book makes no mention of Glass having a son or saving any woman held captive by the French. The real reason he hunted Fitzgerald down is because the man stole Glass’ rifle, his favorite thing in the world, before leaving Glass to rot.
Yes, Glass fought to survive a brutal bear attack to hunt down the man who stole his gun.
As you can imagine, Hollywood probably didn’t think that motivation would sit well with a mainstream audience. It’s obvious they added the son and Glass’ good deeds to make him a true protagonist and someone the audience could feel good about, but in doing so they turned their back on the core of the book and, truthfully, the real Hugh Glass. They made Glass a typical Hollywood hero, something Glass was not.
The book is a fantastic read. It delves deeply into Glass’ past, and Fitzgerald’s, as well as several other significant men. Each of them had rich, complex backstories which the movie completely ignored. The book also made a point to show the passage of time by marking each chapter with a date. All in all, it took Glass over seven months to heal and locate Fitzgerald. The movie makes it seem as though it happens in a matter of days. Oh, and let’s not even get into the endings.
I don’t know what I would have thought of the movie had I not read the book first. However, having read the book, the film strikes me as a cliched, mutinous adaptation coupled with beautiful cinematography and scenery.