The Revenant, Unrealistic Survival

January 24th, 2016 by

One thing I usually avoid partaking in on my website is movie reviews. Everybody has their own opinion and for many movies I really think it comes down to the viewer’s personal preferences and opinions on what they like and do not like. However, a movie recently came out that I felt would make a decent article of discussion since one aspect of it deals with wilderness survival.

The movie was directed by a Mexican director named Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It is called The Revenant. For those who do not know, revenant basically means one who returns or a ghost returning from the grave. Let me get right down to it.

I found the movie visceral, incredibly filmed for art and visual nitty-gritty scenes of a tangible sensory grasp. I would have to say there were numerous scenes that were filmed in such a way that might make many viewers cringe and squirm because the cinematography was so well done. The acting was great, the storyline was captivating and I found the whole thing very entertaining to watch. So far that is all just my opinion. Yes the movie was raw, violent and held a heavy undertone of anger, rage and revenge, but it was also mixed with rich time-period culture, incredible natural landscape beauty and meticulous attention to its detail throughout the film. It reminded me and looked like some of the places I have lived. It was very much to my liking. Nevertheless, it was obviously laid out and filmed in a way that tried to really capture realism, and that was one of its downfalls.

In much of the movie the name of the game was survival, raw, visceral and pure, no holds barred survival. It failed in that aspect of trying to portray realism. Of course we may not read about that from mainstream and professional reviewers since most of them I would suspect know very little about the reality of wilderness survival. However, I do.

For those of you who saw the movie and really for anyone who has read the movie synopsis or reviews, you will know that one of the characters, Hugh Glass, was violently attacked and mauled by a sow grizzly bear. The filming scene was amazingly done, especially knowing it had to be a large part CGI. No matter, Glass was brutalized by the grizzly and the amount and sheer intensity of the wounds he received was nothing less than deaths door. Broken bones, sprains, gouges as wide as your wrist and lacerations down to the bone all over his body. The film clearly and graphically the amount of blood pouring and pumping out of his wounds. Ok, have the image in your mind? Good, because this leads me into the lack of survival reality in a reality based film.

The time frame of the mauling was late autumn in the Shining Mountains (Rocky Mountains). Snow, ice and frigid temps were beginning to brace the land. Hugh’s companions field stitched his gaping wounds, wrapped him in buffalo robes and stretchered him through the primitive forest. He was in severe shock, extremely dehydrated from trauma and vast blood loss and had no real source of heat beyond what his own traumatized body could produce, which would have been absolute minimal. He had a gash across his neck which allowed any fluids they tried to get down him to trickle out. He obviously could not eat or even move on his own. Pain ravaged his body night and day. Fever set in and under those conditions, with the graphic nature of the severity of his wounds he had little to no chance of survival, especially with his companion’s lack of medical knowledge.

Nonetheless, he continues to survive, for days and days under the same conditions, snow falling on his face while he lay motionless beyond the involuntary quaking of his pain convulsing body on the stretcher.

Short time passes and he is left for dead. But amazingly enough he manages to crawl out of the shallow grave he was dragged into, all on his own, with those wounds! Now yes certain things happened just prior to him being abandoned that fueled a wrath inside him. I also know full well the extraordinary strength and drive wrath can evoke inside. I have quite literally been there myself on too many occasions. However, that kind of drive requires energy and even if the body is dangerously low on energy, the brain will kick in extra adrenaline stores and flood the body, allowing it to go the unimaginable distance. Even so, those energy stores rape the core vitality of the body, and when the body is so brutally traumatized, as depicted with Glass’s character, that wrathful drive would dwindle quickly like a small candle flame in a stiff wind. Remember not only his condition, but also the harsh environmental conditions he was in. Both would have been his death, but nope, he survives.

He uses a branch as a crutch and begins to wander off into the wilderness on his own, barely able to move and in constant and violent pain. Yet he drives on.

Another scene shows him plunging into a large icy winter’s river, fully clothed. Glass is washed swiftly down river, over waterfalls, through frothy rapids and then floats while hanging onto a log for what appears to be miles downriver before dragging himself out onto the icy shore. In his condition! Even more unbelievable is that he surprisingly still has enough circulation in his arms and hands to get a fire going using flint and steel. Wow, quite the superman.

Of course he survives and continues on in similar conditions for the rest of the movie.

The reality is that he would have perished from his wounds received from the sow grizzly. With that amount of devastating bodily trauma, extreme amounts of blood loss, harsh environmental conditions and a crew unfamiliar with any real healing knowledge beyond field stitching and primitive stretcher construction, he would have succumb to deadly shock. If he managed to somehow survive the shock the fever would have killed him since he could take no liquids.

Yet the movie shows him in the fake realism of glorious cinematography living on to brave the icy river. Nobody in such a state could survive that length of time in those waters. Even a fully healthy adult, primed to that environment could have perished to hypothermia long before they would have reached shore. You see it all the time in winter news around the world. People fall into frigid waters and die quickly before rescues crews can manage to get them out. It is just a fact of life. Now add the amount of trauma Glass was shown to be suffering to the scenario.

However, Hugh Glass manages to drag himself onto the icy shore miles downriver and build a fire using flint and steel. Anyone who knows anything about being submerged in icy waters knows that the body take every speck of heat from the extremities and tries to pack it around the organs. Your hands do not work. Your arms do not work. You cannot feel them at all. Yet he manages to maneuver flint and steel to make fire. People who have struck steel on a chunk of flint will understand how difficult it can be.

You may remember the small series I wrote a while back where after a full days hike on snowshoes in the Rocky Mountain wilderness I fell through snow into rushing water. Elk Tooth Trek. I was in tip top shape, excellent condition and from the time I went into the water I had just a few precious and vital minutes to get out and continue forcing the slightest movement out of my hands to get a fire going before they froze completely. The reality of Glass being able to make fire in the circumstances he was shown in is below non-existent.

Nevertheless, the director’s depiction of the Arikara Native American’s, French and American furmen was quite well done. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery because it reminded me very much of the place Paula and I used to live. We would see that every day of the winter right out our front door.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a good director with intricate attention to detail. He just does not understand much about true wilderness survival and trauma. I felt I should clarify the non-reality of such wilderness survival and extreme trauma being portrayed as reality in a powerful film clearly going to great lengths to present reality. The Revenant was well worth the watch! Just keep in mind the film is just a movie and does not accurately depict the truth of trauma and wilderness survival.


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