The Suffocating Solemnity of “The Revenant”

January 14, 2016 11:21 PM

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Humor is a crucial form of imagination, and the lack of it is a sign—but not proof—of a failure of imagination. There’s a kind of spiritual illumination, a holy state, that can get away without humor, that might even preclude it—and many artists who lack humor and imagination strive to conjure or to imitate that state, not because they’re actually endowed with a spiritual vision but to compensate for that lack. That’s how the spiritualism of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “The Revenant,” the rugged adventure through frozen country of the grieving, angry, wounded guide and trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), plays. Its spirituality and attendant solemnity give the story and the movie an air of importance that would both justify and conceal its emptiness, that would convert its defects into virtues.

The framework of “The Revenant” is a taut, classic double chase. Glass, who was left for dead after being attacked by a bear, is chasing Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the man who killed Glass’s son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). In turn, a group of Native Americans are seeking a woman, Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o),...

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