Thursday, January 14, 2016

Slightly less impressed with The Revenant

I'm reading Michael Punke's The Revenant and wondering about some discrepancies between the story there - a novel, which takes some liberties with the truth, which Punke details in an afterword - and the film, which looks very different when you realize how far it is removed from what is known.

Punke's departures from the historical record are in many cases inevitable; there is controversy, for example, as to whether the young boy who, with Fitzgerald, abandons Hugh Glass - the Leo DiCaprio character - was in fact Jim Bridger. Some say yes, some say no, and many simply don't care, but in writing the story, Punke has no choice but to weigh in; either he's going to make the character Bridger, or not. So he does, and mentions having done so in his afterword, explaining that some historians would disagree. He also admits to inventing some peripheral characters, also out of a storyteller's necessity. All seems fair and above-board; I mean, it is presented as a novel, not a work of non-fiction, and when we're talking about events that took place in 1823, there's only so much help the record will provide.

Here's the thing, though: one of the major plot points of the film involves Glass' son with a Pawnee woman. Glass was married to a Pawnee woman, in fact, but there's no mention of him having had children with her at all on Wikipedia, and presumably none in the book, either; he certainly has no son with him when he's mauled in the book. In the film - SPOILERS, note - Glass' revenge is mostly motivated by his rage at Fitzgerald, the Tom Hardy character, for having killed his son, when the son interrupts Fitzgerald's first attempt to kill Glass. None of this is in the book. The son would appear to be a wholesale invention, designed to further motivate Glass' revenge: it's not enough that he was left for dead, it's not enough that Fitzgerald took his rifle (a unique and prized design, according to Punke): to motivate Glass' bloodlust, nothing less than a you-killed-my-son hate-burn is sufficient.

And it works in the film, no question; it boosts the drama a hundred fold over the you-took-my-rifle-and-left-me-to-die reality, which maybe one might expect Glass to get over, given that he really did seem to be dying ANYHOW, and that there really was danger in hanging around waiting for it to happen. The son is a great plot device, and helps tie Glass in with the various First Nations characters who appear in the film, giving him a much more sympathetic bond with them. It's kind of too bad it's all a lie, though! It seems just slightly condescending - a Hollywoodism - and it distorts the impression of the actual history, misleading those who don't do their homework, and take the "based on a true story" thing as gospel. It kind of also does an injustice to the historical Fitzgerald, who may have been a bastard in reality, but would appear not to have been a murderer. While not as dramatic, the true story is actually interesting: Glass tracked down both men, but forgave Bridger (if it was Bridger) since he was young, and got his rifle back off Fitzgerald, who had since joined the army. It's kind of funny that a film so concerned with reality that DiCaprio allegedly slept in animal carcasses and ate raw meat, for authenticity's sake, is so comfortable with falsification in other ways...

I wonder if Man in the Wilderness, also a telling of the Hugh Glass story, lies thus, too? It's too bad that the video industry has fallen into disarray; there was a time when a movie like The Revenant would have automatically meant a home video release (or re-release) of Man in the Wilderness, to capitalize on the success of the current film, and it's a film I'd like to see... apparently it did come out on DVD at one point, but I won't hold my breath for a Blu-Ray...

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