Hazel McHaffie

The Revenant

Even when I make a conscious effort to switch off my brain and just relax, life somehow has a habit of steering me back into work-mode!

I’m at the stage of being utterly absorbed in the lives of my fictional characters (no, I do not want another cup of coffee/lunch/a break/to pack up for the night!! … please do not ring/call/interrupt/challenge/speak to me in any way or by any means until I emerge from my fictional world and readjust to yours!) and at the end of a long writing stint I feel pretty zapped. I know my subconscious can be relied on to work on issues during sleep and I can safely leave it to do so, but sometimes I crave a real switched-off complete break. That was the case one night this week so I decided to watch a DVD I bought many moons ago: The Revenant. (Just in case this word has escaped your personal lexicon, it means a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.)

It’s a raw, brutal, stunning film. (Click on the picture for the official trailer.)

‘Everything screams primal in “The Revenant” – the lethal force of a wild animal, the savagery of man against man, the sustaining power of revenge, and the beauty of vast, snowbound lands seemingly untouched since the Creation.’ (Wall Street Journal)

It won three Golden Globes and considerable acclaim from critics and the public alike. Loosely (I use the word advisedly) based on a true story, and a work of fiction, about the main protagonist, a legendary explorer on a quest for survival and justice, it’s not an authentic documentary of a hero’s life, but I wasn’t looking for verifiable reality or hard facts, just some escape. A subject, then, far removed from my usual interests, so it should fit the bill perfectly. Settle down in a comfy chair, pick up the knitting, here goes …

A brief synopsis of the story line first. While exploring the uncharted wilderness of the Rocky mountains in 1823, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains life-threatening injuries from a brutal grizzly bear attack. A treacherous member of his hunting team (Tom Hardy) kills Glass’ young half-Pawnee son (Forrest Goodluck) and leaves Glass himself for dead. His beloved native American wife has also been murdered, and, grief-stricken, fuelled by vengeance, the legendary fur trapper treks through the snowy terrain to track down the man who betrayed him. (The real Hugh Glass really did crawl to safety for 200 miles over 6 weeks.)

Some reviewers have been pretty sniffy about the effects but I, in my naivety, was lost in admiration of the stupendous cinematography. And how the actors coped in the deep snow and freezing glacial rivers – yes, really in I can’t begin to understand. But, I can vouch for the authenticity of the setting; it was mostly filmed in the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia where we were recently. The filmmakers have captured the essence of Glass’ struggles, and the sheer grit needed to survive in this vast uncharted terrain, incredibly well. And the footage of him climbing inside the still-steaming carcass of a newly-dead eviserated horse for warmth, or being driven off the edge of a cliff, or being ripped and shaken by a grizzly, or guzzling raw buffalo liver, vividly convey the desperation that drove such pioneers, and the sheer forces of nature they faced.

So, a completely different scenario from my usual medical ethics work, huh? You’d think. But you’d be wrong. As was I!

Glass sees one of the trappers attempting to kill his beloved son. Would he be justified in killing the attacker if that would save the boy’s life?

When Glass is severely injured in the brutal grizzly bear attack, the trappers consider leaving the dying man behind to save their own lives. Would this be morally defensible?

Some of the men feel it would be a humane thing to shoot Glass to put him out of his suffering after the bear attack. Would it be ethically right to do so?

Glass can’t speak but his eyes are open. One of the trappers tells him to blink if he wants to die. Glass stares back wide-eyed for ages but eventually blinks. Would this be deemed informed consent?

The chap deputed to actually shoot to kill, says someone should put a rag over the dying Glass’ eyes; he can’t do the deed looking into the face of a man he knows. What does this say about mercy killing?

When Glass eventually catches up with his son’s killer, a bloody fight ensues, but in the end Glass leaves vengeance to God, as one of the indigenous Indians taught him. Does this translate to today’s issues?

Just a few challenges to give you a flavour. But hey, it’s an absorbing film anyway. Enjoy!



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