Catatan Produksi Film The Revenant (2015)
About the Production
Academy Award-winning director Alejandro G. Inarritu brings the legend of Hugh Glass to the screen with The Revenant, an epic adventure set in the unchartered 19th century American Frontier. Immersing audiences in the unparalleled beauty, mystery and dangers of life in 1823 America, the film explores one man’s transformation in a quest for survival. Part thriller, part wilderness journey, The Revenant explores primal drives not only for life itself but for dignity, justice, faith, family and home. Known for such films as 21 Grams, Babel and the Academy Award-winning Best Picture Birdman, The Revenant is Inarritu’s first historical epic. He brings his distinctive mix of visual immediacy and emotional intimacy to a story that transports audiences to a time and place that have rarely been experienced through visceral modern filmmaking.
The film’s wilderness-based production mirrored the harsh conditions Glass and company actually lived through in the 1800s. Inarritu and his whole cast and crew were up for all that was thrown at them, welcoming the challenges of shooting in Canada and Argentina, regions known for unpredictable weather and untouched wilds, in order to fully understand the experience of fur trappers in the early 19th century.
Inarritu collaborated closely with Golden Globe-winning and Academy Award-nominated actor Leonardo DiCaprio in a one-of-a-kind role as physically intense as it is emotionally raw. Along with BAFTA-winning actor Tom Hardy and celebrated actors Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter, Inarritu guided a diverse international and Native American cast into the unseen past. He reunited with Academy Award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubekzi to bring their distinctive camera style outdoors, with a camera that floats through the landscape – and gets so close-in at times the very breath of the characters is visually present. And Inarritu consulted closely with historical advisors to authentically explore the territorial wars with Native tribes that would later become the stuff of myth.
Glass’s mythology began in 1823, when he was among thousands joining the fur trade, a driving new force in the US economy. It was a time when many saw the wild as a spiritual void that demanded to be tamed and conquered by the steeliest of men. And so they poured into the unknown, plying unmapped rivers, disappearing into impossibly lush forests, seeking not only excitement and adventure but also profits — often in fierce competition with the Native tribes for whom these lands had long been home.
Many such men died anonymously, but Glass entered the annals of American folklore by flat-out refusing to die. His legend sparked after he faced one of the West’s most feared dangers: a startled grizzly bear. For even the most tested frontiersmen that should have been the end. But not for Glass. In Inarritu’s telling of the tale, a mauled Glass clings to life – then suffers a human betrayal that fuels him to continue at any cost. In spite of tremendous loss, Glass pulls himself from an early grave – clawing his way through a gauntlet of unknown perils and unfamiliar cultures on a journey that becomes not just a search for reckoning but for redemption. As Glass moves through the frontier in turmoil, he comes to reject the urge for destruction that once drove him. He has become a “revenant” — one returned from the dead.
Says Inarritu: “Glass’s story asks the questions: Who are we when we are completely stripped of everything? What are we made of and what are we capable of?”
Adds Leonardo DiCaprio: “The Revenant is an incredible journey through the harshest elements of an uncharted America. It’s about the power of a man’s spirit. Hugh Glass’s story is the stuff of campfire legends, but Alejandro uses that folklore to explore what it really means to have all the chips stacked against you, what the human spirit can endure and what happens to you when you do endure.”
For Inarritu The Revenant is a complete 180 from the interior world of Birdman. Having honed in on the neuroses of current times, Inarritu now switched all gears into a grand-scale story from the American past, with its perpetual tensions between savagery and civility, serenity and ambition.
“For over five years, this project was a dream for me,” says Inarritu. “It’s an intense, emotional story set against a beautiful, epic backdrop that explores the lives of trappers who grew spiritually even as they suffered immensely physically. Though much of Glass’s story is apocryphal, we tried to stay very faithful to what these men went through in these undeveloped territories. We went through difficult physical and technical conditions to squeeze every honest emotion out of this incredible adventure.”
Inarritu was fascinated by how stark peril strips us down and allows us a glimpse into what sustains us; how it can unearth things that might have remained hidden if that door to mortality had never been opened. The mountaineer Reinhold Messner once said of facing the dangers of the wild: “We are not learning how big we are. We are learning how breakable, how weak, how full of fear we are. You can only get this when you [are exposed] to great danger.” Costume designer Jacqueline West echoes him, noting, “Glass is a character coming into touch with his own mortality, and that is a powerful thing.”
That confrontation with mortality also becomes entwined with an unusual father-son love story: that of a man who in his moment of loss becomes more devoted to life than ever.
“The Revenant is a story of harsh survival but also one of inspirational hope,” Inarritu says. “For me, the important part was to convey this adventure with a sense of wonder and discovery, as an exploration of both nature and human nature.” Producer Steve Golin observes: “Alejandro always brings truth to whatever he does. There’s a grittiness to his work, but there’s also a spiritual element to his work – and in The Revenant that makes for a potent combination we haven’t seen in this way before.”
20th Century Fox and New Regency present The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge and Duane Howard. The film is directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu and the screenplay is written by Mark L. Smith and Inarritu, based in part on Michael Punke’s novel. Producers are Inarritu, Arnon Milchan (12 Years A Slave, Gone Girl), Steve Golin (Babel, True Detective), Mary Parent (Godzilla, Noah), Keith Redmon and James Skotchdopole (Birdman, Django Unchained); executive producers are James Packer (The Lego Movie), Jennifer Davisson (The Ides of March), David Kanter (Rendition) and Brett Ratner (X-Men: Last Stand). The filmmaking team includes two-time Academy Award-winning director of photography Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, ASC/AMC (Gravity, Birdman); production designer Jack Fisk (There Will Be Blood); editor Stephen Mirrione, A.C.E. (The Hunger Games); visual effects supervisor Rich McBride (Gravity); and costume designer Jacqueline West (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button).
For two centuries, the story of Hugh Glass has stood as one of the most astonishing tales of a man going beyond all expected limits of body, mind and soul. Born in Philadelphia in 1773, little is known about the real Glass’s early life, but it is believed he spent years at sea as a pirate. He journeyed west in his 30s, and in 1823, fatefully signed up for Captain Andrew Henry’s expedition to explore the Missouri River. It was when the expedition neared what is now Lemmon, South Dakota that Glass was mauled by a grizzly and abandoned by the men assigned to stay with him who assumed, incorrectly, he would soon die.
Glass himself left no writing behind, save a solitary letter written to the parents of a companion killed by the Arikara Indians. When he turned up alive, newspapermen of the day spread his tale across the nation. Since then, there have been biographies and novels – but in 2002, author Michael Punke published one of the most extensively researched accounts with The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. Intriguingly, Punke has a whole other career as a U.S. trade representative, but he also had a life-long fascination with mountain men that led him to comb every resource to give the most life-like rendering of Glass yet.
The book was praised by Publishers Weekly as “a spellbinding tale of heroism and obsessive retribution” and became a favorite of readers who thrive on high adventure. Three of those readers included Anonymous Content producers Steve Golin, Keith Redmon and David Kanter.
“I’ve always loved wilderness survival pictures, and we all thought this could an incredible and fresh adventure,” recalls Golin. “For David, Keith and me, it’s been a long journey, but we are really excited that it came together the way that it did with the extraordinary group of people that it did. It was not easy, but it was a dream come true in terms of the creativity the story inspired.”
Anonymous Content enlisted Mark L. Smith to pen a screenplay. Smith saw in the story a chance to give people an experience we can barely imagine in our 21st Century technological lives.
“Back in the 1820s, when you were left in the wilderness, you were left in the wilderness. You couldn’t pull an iPhone out of your pocket,” Smith notes. “Glass is thrown into nearly unimaginable experiences: from going over waterfalls to fighting wolves off a buffalo. His story is an adventure, but it is also a rich, emotional journey and I felt it could also be an amazing visual spectacle.”
That hope became a reality when Inarritu came aboard, hoping to take audiences directly into a world that has long fascinated and beckoned – yet remained inaccessible. “This story is so different for Alejandro, I was in shock at first that he was interested in it,” Smith admits. “But once he began working on the script, everything came to life. He was so invested, so creative. It was a wonderful collaboration.”
New Regency was thrilled to work with Inarritu. Says CEO and president Brad Weston: “We were fully committed to Alejandro’s vision – we understood the breadth and the scale of it and the need for flexibility and we saw it as a chance to get back to the roots of our company as a filmmaker-driven enterprise. We saw it as a very creative project but also a story with widespread commercial appeal.”
Inarritu brought fictional twists to the already apocryphal stories of Glass, while continually diving further down to explore the resonant themes beneath the surface. “I was interested in exploring not only the physical paths of Glass and Fitzgerald but also their psychologies, their dreams, their fears and their losses,” the director explains. “The storyline was a great base, as in music, but what’s going on in their minds and their hearts are the solos, the trumpets and piano.”
For DiCaprio, Inarritu’s stamp on the screenplay was unmistakable. “When Alejandro came aboard, it became an exciting prospect for me because he is such a unique filmmaker,” says the actor. “I knew he could give audiences that truly immersive experience. On the one hand, it’s a primal story of existential survival, but Alejandro brings in so many different nuances, it becomes something more.”
Because only the bare historical facts are known, the story demanded imagination, but two words underlined Inarritu and Smith’s approach: cultural authenticity. “We researched everything from how frontiersmen spoke to their tools. We wanted to bring audiences into this world fully,” says Smith.
Inarritu took to heart the responsibility of recreating a lost world. On the first day of filming, he assembled the production on the banks of Alberta’s Bow River – where the cast would soon wade into the icy waters for an action-packed scene. Each was handed a red rose. Blackfoot cultural advisor Craig Falcon led a ceremony aided by elders from the local Stoney tribe to bless the film, the creatures and the land. After the blessing, Inarritu asked the 300 people to hold hands in silence. Then, in unison, they walked into the river, scattering their rose petals.
Leonardo DiCaprio has portrayed a kaleidoscopic array of characters – from Howard Hughes to Jay Gatsby to Wolf of Wall Street’s profligate Jordan Belfort – but the role of the Hugh Glass was an entirely new challenge, taking the actor into borderlands that few in our modern world have experienced. It is DiCaprio’s most intensely physical role and at the same time, an almost wordlessly raw performance.
“There are powerful themes for me in the film: the will to live and our relationship with wilderness,” explains DiCaprio of his immediate attraction to the story. “I’ve also previously played a lot of characters who were incredibly articulate in different ways and had a lot to say, so this was a unique challenge for me. It was about conveying things without words or in a different language. A lot of it was about adapting in the moment, about reacting to what nature was giving us and to what Glass was going through as we filmed. It was about exploring the most internal elements of the survival instinct.”
DiCaprio was also enthralled by Inarritu’s aim to bring Glass’s story to life with a realism that would plunge audiences into life in primordial Western lands long before cowboys and outlaws. “I’ve never really seen this time period in American history put on film, so that interested me,” he says. “This was a unique time and place in the history of the American West because it was far more wild than what we think of as ‘the wild, wild West.’ It was like the Amazon, a completely unknown wilderness, a no man’s land where few laws applied. These trappers who came from Europe and the East Coast had to learn to live a life in the middle of the elements — surviving like any other animal in the wilderness.”
Inarritu was gratified to find DiCaprio ready to explore limits, as Glass had. “Leo is extraordinary in every detail, in every aspect of human behavior and observation. He’s a natural at nuances and rhythmical movements and everything that makes a character feel fully alive. He’s collaborative and very smart, always questioning what makes a scene more powerful. And he brought his own deep personal connection with nature. What he delivered on screen was not only moving but surprising.”
The director emphasizes that DiCaprio faced tests no actor could fully prepare for in his performance. “Leo was working in the toughest of conditions, under a challenging wardrobe, in extreme make-up, going to the most emotionally uncomfortable and dark places. But no matter what he is going through, something immediate comes to life when Leo is in front of the camera. There’s an incredible power,” Inarritu observes. “The way we were shooting demanded an enormous amount from him in terms of rhythm, timing, momentum and silence, yet Leo makes it all work because he is so present.”
In turn, DiCaprio says he gave Inarritu his full trust. “What I really love about Alejandro’s approach is that he’s an old-school filmmaker who believes in the art of creating something on the screen — and he’s also kind of an outsider, even though he works on the inside. He understands the industry as it is now, but he’s been influenced by an entire lifetime of studying cinema history and developed his own uncompromising style that is now synonymous with his name. There are very few filmmakers out there who can escape the Hollywood mold and yet accomplish a film like this one on such an epic scale.”
The bear attack that threatens to end Glass’s life immediately took DiCaprio into a mano-a-mano struggle with one of nature’s most skilled predators. “The bear attack was incredibly difficult and arduous,” DiCaprio recalls, “but it’s profoundly moving. In the film, Alejandro puts you there almost like a fly buzzing around this attack, so that you feel the breath of Glass and the breath of the bear. What he achieved is beyond anything I’ve seen. Glass has to find a way to deal with this full-grown animal on top of him. He’s at the brink of death – and you are fully immersed in this moment with him.”
Inarritu and DiCaprio had intensive conversations about Glass that deepened what is a non-stop kinetic performance. He notes that Glass’s fictional Pawnee wife and son already set him apart among the trappers. “Glass is someone who has already immersed himself in nature and kind of left behind the trappers’ more material world,” he observes. “He has faced a unique set of challenges as a father in this environment, and that is a constant undertone in his character. There’s a sense that he and Hawk are already isolated and alone, so their father-son bond is a very powerful force that drives him throughout.”
DiCaprio did many of his own stunts: he was buried in snow, went naked in minus five-degree weather and jumped into a frigid river, each moment bringing him more in touch with Glass’s will. But as he makes his way, Glass does not just abide – he also changes profoundly, something DiCaprio reveals in a multi-hued range of subtle details that add up to the film’s stirring climax. “Throughout, there’s that question of whether some kind of revenge is ultimately the thing that will quench Glass’s thirst at the end of the day. But the need to continue on becomes something more to himâ€¦it becomes a kind of spiritual endeavor,” he concludes.
The dark mirror to Hugh Glass’s journey of survival is John Fitzgerald’s journey into paranoia, recrimination and haunted bitterness. To portray Fitzgerald, who both betrays Glass and becomes his spark for enduring, Inarritu cast the English actor Tom Hardy who has come to the fore in vastly contrasting roles, from the dream-world character of Eames in Christopher Nolan’s Inception to the one-man tour-de-force of Locke. Inarritu says, “As Fitzgerald, Tom plays a man full of prejudice. Yet he’s a wounded soul who has fears of the other because he is not capable of opening up to and understanding otherness. Tom has a finesse to him that is difficult to find,” Inarritu continues. He is so handsome, so well built, so powerful and strong, but at the same time, can be extremely fragile, and that is what makes him so unique.”
Hardy made for an incredible nemesis. “Fitzgerald is a very interesting character because you understand his motivations so well. Here he is a man with nothing who hoped to be in a lucrative business, and all his future plans disappear in one second. So he goes into this ultimate survival mode where it’s kill or be killed – and Glass is the person in the way of that,” says DiCaprio. “Fitzgerald is also a survivor, but he finds a very different way from Glass. He chooses to be cutthroat.”
He continues: “Tom is someone I’ve worked with before and I’m an incredible fan of his work. I think he’s one of the most dynamic actors out there, and his commitment to creating this character was incredibly exciting to watch. He has a raw savagery that is so genuine; and that was absolutely, fundamentally needed to contrast with my character. He’s not your typical villain. These two men show strength in two entirely different ways.”
For Domhnall Gleeson, playing the role of Fitzgerald’s disappointed Captain, it was thrilling to go up against Hardy as Captain Henry realizes he has been duped. “Tom has brought an edge to Fitzgerald where you never know which way he’s going to go,” Gleeson says. “My character feels beaten down by Fitzgerald, but then he starts to hold his ground – and it was really exciting to go toe-to-toe with Tom.”
The history of the American fur trade is brief, yet pivotal, full of tales of daring but also grave destruction. Though the fur trade forged the romantic image of the mountain man – idealized loners purportedly as rugged as the wilderness they felt beholden to tame — the fur trade was also very much a business. In a sense it ushered in the first emergence of the archetypal Western entrepreneur, the visionary iconoclast who forges ahead answerable to no one but himself.
“This era was the start of industrialism at play in the West. Even before the discovery of gold and oil, the fur trade was a massive, lucrative business,” explains DiCaprio. “You had trappers going into pristine landscapes among indigenous populations to extract resources – and the question that comes up is: at what cost? Glass is caught in the middle of that question and it’s a powerful theme in the film.”
Fur trading began in the late 17th Century, as indigenous tribesmen exchanged their wondrously warm pelts for European’s metal tools. By the early 19th Century, as demand for fancy fur hats soared in Europe – and prices for beaver pelts reached $6/lb. — the fur trade became a boost to the American economy, responsible for new trade routes that would set the stage for development of the West to come.
By the 1820s, the fur trade had reached the Rocky Mountains and become intensely competitive, with traders battling one another as well as Native tribes. Hugh Glass worked for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, then newly on the scene. The company utilized the “rendezvous system,” which meant they built no cabins or forts. Instead, their trappers were expected to hunt their own food, build their own shelter and fight their own battles, enhancing their stoic reputations.
Yet the romanticized myths of the heroic mountain men have belied some of the era’s darker realities. Many trappers spent their lives in debt, while owners of fur companies grew fabulously wealthy. And while trappers lived amid nature’s rhythms, their relationship to the environment was often adversarial – resulting in species being hunted to the brink of extinction and profound impacts on both the natural environment and the Native American cultures entwined with it.
To recreate this world in all its authentic shadings, Inarritu recruited experts, including historian Clay Landry, who is affiliated with the only two U.S. museums devoted to the period: The Museum of the Mountain Man in Wyoming and Museum of the Fur Trade in Nebraska. Landry notes that among historians, the Hugh Glass story is Mountain Man 101. “If you study Rocky Mountain fur trade history, one of the first things you’ll learn is the Glass story. It’s that epic,” he muses.
Throughout the production, Landry provided advice on trapper’s mindsets, tools and survival skills. He gave the cast a personal taste of all this in a “Trader’s Boot Camp” — where the homework included drawing bows, setting beaver traps, skinning [fake] beavers and throwing tomahawks.
“At Boot Camp, the actors really dug in,” says Landry. “We taught them everything a trapper would need to know. Of course, they were shooting blanks and not truly fending for themselves, but they still got the feel of it. The cast and crew wanted to know everything they could about the era.”
Adds Arthur Redcloud, who plays Hikuc, the Native healer Glass encounters on his journey: “The boot camp didn’t just take place on a physical level; it gave us something on an emotional and spiritual level as well. For me, it wasn’t just about reconnecting with the past. It was gaining a new vision.”
As The Revenant begins, Captain Henry’s fur trapping expedition comes under attack from a band of tribesmen already settled along the banks of the Missouri River. These are the Arikara – dubbed simply the Ree by trappers — whose historic offensive against the Rocky Mountain Fur Trading Company would forever alter their fate. An oft-ignored yet integral part of Glass’s story, Inarritu felt compelled to bring the Arikara’s presence to the fore in his telling of the tale.
Known among their own people as the Sahnish, the Arikara were so named by other tribes for their feathered headdresses. They had populated the plains for more than 1000 years as semi-nomadic farmers with a rich culture before Europeans arrived. In 1804, Lewis and Clark had encountered the Arikara, and found them peaceable. Yet by the 1820s, having been repeatedly displaced, they were in full-scale hostilities. An attack on fur trappers drew a response from the U.S. military, which decimated the tribe in the first of many brutal plains wars. The Arikara’s dwindling numbers were then reduced 70% in an 1830s smallpox plague and ensuing conflicts with the Sioux. Yet, the Arikara survived, settling in North Dakota, where the last speakers of the endangered Arikara language have kept it alive.
It was so vital to Inarritu to authentically portray the Arikara people, that he brought in adviser Loren Yellowbird Sr., an Arikara historian, anthropologist, and Chief Interpreter and Ranger at the Fort Union Trading Post in North Dakota.
For Yellowbird, it was exhilarating to see the Arikara finally become part-and-parcel of this story. “A lot of people have never even heard of the Arikara, so this was a chance to show another perspective and to bring this world to life,” he says. “I appreciated it greatly, because I think being able to capture the Arikara language and to bring some of their traditional culture to light in this time is very important.” Yellowbird notes the period seen in the film represents the last moments of the traditional Arikara lifestyle. “Arikara villages had been there for hundreds of years â€¦ They had a strong trading culture and an intricate ceremonial culture that was not altered yet.”
That would rapidly change as the fur trade grew. “These trappers were coming in and were not respectful from our perspective. They were coming into other people’s territory and taking things. There was no negotiating. The trappers just took what they wanted,” Yellowbird describes.
Following the attack, the Arikara developed a reputation as lethal warriors, but Yellowbird says there is a larger context. “Traders started to fear the Arikara. Yet, the funny thing is, Arikara women were still marrying traders,” he points out. “So if you came to the Arikara respectfully, there was peace. But I believe they were treating the trappers and military they way they felt they were being treated.”
It was the beginning of a near-collapse of the tribe’s way of life. “At that point, our way of life was being taken so fast, we had no way to stop it,” Yellowbird laments. “We were lucky we had smart chiefs — visionaries who thought about the future and asked what can we do to assure our people survive. I still follow that path. While making this film, I was thinking about what I can do to make sure that my great-great-grandchildren have these things in place: our language, our culture, our songs and our customs.”
Yellowbird is especially excited that some young Arikara may have an opportunity to hear the language and see how their ancestors lived for the first time when they see The Revenant. “I’m a guy who has an iPhone but I still follow our traditional paths because I think it is good for us to respect our ancestors. This stories show all the hardships they went through so we could live today,” he concludes.
While Yellowbird was the only Arikara involved with the production, some 1,500 Native Americans and Canadian First Nations appear in the film. Yellowbird was gratified by their openness to learning about the Arikara. “The cast was interested in representing this world in the most vibrant way. It humbled me to see that,” he says. “If I was portraying someone from another tribe, I’d do the same.”
Craig Falcon, a Blackfoot cultural educator specializing in Native American/Aboriginal Awareness, also came aboard, with a special interest in horse and war paints. The cultural authenticity Inarritu sought was a huge draw. “In Native America, we want to see truth,” says Falcon, “not like the old movies where you’d see Ricardo Montalban dressed as a Native! The Revenant hits true authenticity with the language, with the way horses are painted and with its portrayals of each tribe.”
Arthur Redcloud, who grew up on a Navajo reservation and plays Hikuc, says: “The film is a special gift, and we wanted to pour the heart and soul of our people into it.”