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Leonardo is The Man in the Wilderness in Oscar-Winning The Revenant

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No Spoilers

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I already knew the story of American trapper and Wilderness Man Hugh Glass before I heard of the film The Revenant, since My Guy was totally devoted to the 1971 film starring Richard Harris, Man in the Wilderness. Both films recount the tale of Glass, who was mauled by a grizzly bear, presumed to be dying by his companions, and abandoned — without food or weapons — in the wilderness.

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Since Glass himself never gave any versions of the frightening and ultimately miraculous events, I assume his tale has been embellished by those who dramatized his amazing story of survival. First appearing in a Philadelphia literary journal The Portfolio, the story was soon picked up by other newspapers. Eventually, as you can imagine, the tale became a legend.

An avid outdoorsman himself, My Guy has always known about Hugh Glass, having first become familiar with his story from a book about Jim Bridger, a young boy who volunteered to stay with Glass after the grizzly attack, but then, along with the others, left him. I’ve seen Man in the Wilderness at least a dozen times myself since My Guy and I have been together, so I know the story and the film well. None of that prevented me from being completely captivated by the 2015 telling of the Glass story, The Revenant. 

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“Inspired by true events,” The Revenant, which means “the returned,” as in “from the dead,” as in a spirit or ghost, gives us a new version of Hugh Glass, based somewhat on the novel of the same name by Michael Punke, based more on the dramatic screenplay by Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who gave Glass’ character a (deceased) Pawnee wife and son, and made him hell-bent on revenge against the men who abandoned him. Leonardo DiCaprio won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Glass. Leonardo claims it was the most challenging and demanding role of his career, and The Revenant is riveting.

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It begins with an Indian attack upon a group of trappers who are preparing their annual supply of pelts for sale. Like the battle scenes in Platoon, the initial battle between the trappers and the Indians in The Revenant is confusing, but that doesn’t detract from its intensity once you realize that it’s supposed to be confusing and frightening. If you just let yourself enjoy the drama of the scene, you’ll become totally captivated.

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The bear attack on Hugh Glass is one of the most disturbing and unsettling events of the film, and I was surprised to learn that it only takes up 2 minutes of the 156-minute film. Even though I knew the story and knew the Grizzly attack in this film version was bound to be more realistic than that in the Richard Harris film, I was clutching my throat in horror during the intense scene. I would not recommend letting children see this portion of the film, especially if you live in an area populated with bears, as I do here on Big Rock Candy Mountain.

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Because of Glass’ grievous injuries, the leader of the expedition, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson, above) believes Glass’ death is imminent. Since the group fears another Indian attack, he requests volunteers to stay with Glass till he dies, then to bury him, then to rejoin the others as they return to the fort. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy),

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Jim Bridger (Will Poulter),

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and Hugh Glass’ (fictional) son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck, below L)

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all volunteer to stay with the trapper-guide until his death, when he is put into the grave.

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But Hugh’s not dead.

And the film just gets better from there as Glass attempts to survive in the Wilderness without weapons or food, and to heal from his crippling injuries, which prevent him from eating, and expose bone to the elements.

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The film’s scenery is stunning and overpowering. The music is excellent. The fictional elements added to Hugh Glass’ story, like his going after revenge against Fitzgerald, only add to The Revenant‘s incredible action. The hallucinatory elements, when Glass is wounded and he imagines his (fictional) dead wife urging him to keep on breathing, are well done and effective.

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Even if you know the story of one of America’s most famous trappers and Wilderness Men, Hugh Glass, you’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy this Hollywood version of his tale of survival. At the very least, you’ll adore Leonardo DiCaprio and appreciate his talent even more than you may have before he won the Oscar for this role.

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You can watch The Revenant on HBO free if you’re a subscriber, or purchase it for $14.99 on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Video, and more. You can watch the official trailer before you decide to commit yourself to Hugh Glass’ terrifying yet inspiring story. You’ll want to watch it more than once, I guarantee you.

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