The myth of The Revenant is growing. Celebrated for its glorious cinematography and sense of scope along with transforming folklore of a brutal production that placed filmmakers against the elements, the film has deservedly earned a must see reputation.
In much of the conversation around the film, the focus has been on the representation of American colonized history and the brutal nature of indigenous displacement. Such conversations are important and legitimate as director Alejandro G. Inarritu is intentional in meaning. Questioning or rather decoding the film’s message is unnecessary; it’s literal and reminds an audience that the myth of the Western is about power, wanting and taking. In all, the film loudly speaks to political and shared experience (past and present).
The most compelling narrative outside of the film is around the open dialogue about American colonization. The film speaks loudly about this history – a history that does not live in isolation. Taking into account that the film was shot in Alberta Canada, Canadian audiences need to find meaning in their own national history tainted by the colonial treatment of indigenous people. From reserves to residential schools where horrific physical and emotional abuse was gravely imposed on young people, The Revenant is not just an American story. It is a Canadian story. Looking at the present, the ramifications of a colonial past still lives. This is evident in the realities brought forward by the Canadian government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings. Part of Canadian history, like the world depicted in The Revenant lacks humanity and is motivated by difference, ignorance and dangerous Western ideals.
With all of this, The Revenant reminds us that history has consequences and that honest, frank and raw conversations must be had. Like films such as Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner or Smoke Signals, history does not live in isolation; it’s grounded in personal stories that have continuous and circular meaning.
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