“Because honor demands it.”
There’s a lot of Terence Malick in this Alejandro Iñárritu film. Considering they share a cinematographer in Emanuel Lubezki, this makes a lot of sense. But still, the pacing and the unabashed use of evocative dream imagery and how the latter serves the narrative both visually and thematically entered Tree of Life territory for me. Like that movie, this is an exploration — not only of humanity and all its intricacies (wants, desires, shortcomings, beliefs) or of the classic frontier setting, but of its role in nature. Nature is brutal. Animals are brutal. Humanity is brutal, with a distinct capacity for cruelty (and honor, too). So for the most part, this film is brutal. It’s a deliberate, seemingly perpetual crucible (and spirit quest!) for Hugh Glass with only a few instances of true decency to lend the viewer and Glass some hope and solace until the next instance of despair. Iñárritu’s much-lauded single takes (even the manufactured ones) and close-ups serve to heighten each of the gory, savage moments as well as those crucial lighter ones — those shining cracks in this world’s brutality. The same can be said for the sound effects and sparse (yet near perfect in its function) score.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Watch Leo DiCaprio suffer for the deserved but elusive Oscar that may never grace him with its golden nudity.”