Grandiose frontier epic never escapes colonial gaze of western genre
By Jesse Wente
Like Kevin Costner's more traditional western, The Revenant takes great strides to get period details correct around clothing, language, housing and combat, but does little to elevate the indigenous characters beyond narrative and storytelling devices.
By Ryan McMahon
Among friends, our "inside the circle" conversations (yes, Indigenous peoples have private conversations y'all are not privy to) about The Revenant have revolved around the white savior complex of the story, the bloodthirsty revenge narrative of the Arikara Chief, and the general musings of the violent times that were. For some, the anger and frustration at the representations of Indigenous people in the film don't allow all of us to see that The Revenant wasn't an Indigenous film. It was a film that happened to have a "B story" that included Native people, but it was not an Indigenous story alone.
By Gyasi Ross
When one of those other dirty, vicious, capitalistic brutal white men kills Glass’s son, DiCaprio goes full-on Native; somehow surviving the worst tragedies, misfortunes and pains that the world can throw at him (‘cause that’s what we do). He’s bent on revenge—the only way that he can find redemption is through avenging his Native son. And that’s kinda the way Hollywood historically uses Native people and black bodies: as lesson providers and tragic figures. We usually don’t live long enough to see the glory of the white man’s redemption, but instead have to be killed so that the white protagonist can find his or her humanity.
Both stars try to prove their seriousness as actors in old-timey survival tales In the Heart of the Sea and The Revenant, but there is a winner.
By Alison Willmore
Though The Revenant is a more ambitious film than In the Heart of the Sea, in the end, the two survival dramas do the same thing: They treat struggle as synonymous with substance, even though one definitely doesn’t guarantee the other.
Indeed, they sound like a 19th-century version of "poverty porn." See how bad the violence against Indians was? See? See? See?
We could call it massacre porn, genocide porn, or something like that. I'm not sure it serves a useful purpose either artistically or historically.
Someone defended the movie as "based on a true story," to which I said:
If you're going to fictionalize Glass's story--as they did--you could fictionalize it with a female, black, or Native protagonist. Heck, you could set it in Africa with a lion or Asia with a tiger instead of a bear.
It's a choice to make a movie featuring a white male protagonist such as Hemsworth or DiCaprio. Not an unalterable law of nature.
For more on Leonardo DiCaprio, see Is The Revenant a Game-Changer? and DiCaprio's Speech Isn't Enough.