by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
“I ain’t afraid to die anymore, I done it already.”
Inspired by love for his family and a thirst for revenge, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), in “real-life” an early 1800s frontiersman, fur trapper, explorer, guide and mountain man, comes to the big screen in a big way.
Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, the biggest BIG of this film is the breath-takingly beautiful natural light cinematography by Oscar-winning Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki. Filmed in British Columbia, Alberta, Montana and Southern Argentina, the events in the life of Hugh Glass actually took place in the mountains of the Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota Territories. The visual aesthetics are enhanced by the sounds of nature: dripping water, flowing river water, wind rustling through trees, animal cries, calls and howls, thunder, even the silence of falling snow.
In his quest to stay alive and to wield revenge upon John Fitzgerald (John Hardy) who killed Glass’ son, Hawk, Glass is continually haunted by bad luck that is way over the top. Mauled by a bear, he is stretcher-bound and unable to speak or walk. Movie-goers experience DiCaprio wheezing, breathing heavily and grunting while he crawls through the pine forest. He is buried alive in a shallow grave, left for dead, eats raw fish (not sushi) and bison liver, tumbles down a water fall and then shoots the rapids.
There are more of these trials, and the film makes it painfully clear that rambling around the snow-covered peaks in the early 1800s was not an easy life for anyone.
Instead of getting hooked into the aspects of the film that are positioned as the most dramatic because they are violent and gory, we have a suggestion. Look at this film through a different lens. Instead of conscribing to the special effects of violence and gore, watch this film as a purveyor of grace.
Here are some graceful moments to look for. There are more than are mentioned here for you to discern:
–Early in the film pay close attention to what emerges when Glass’ wife (Grace Dove) dies. In his dream sequences, as often is true in our own dreams, Glass is guided by his loved one. Particularly compelling is an apparition of his wife as she hovers above him.
–There is emerging grace in the elements of the relationship between Glass and the resourceful and kind Arikara named Hikuc (Arthur RedCloud).
–The tenacity of love a parent has for the child; Elk Dog (Duane Howard) for his daughter Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o) and Hugh Glass for his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck).
–And Jim Bridger’s (Will Poulter) quiet and unspoken kindness to an unnamed Native American woman, a sole survivor of a destroyed native village.
–Native American creation wisdom and respect for the ancestors and Creator.
The breathtakingly beautiful environment that embraces this film and gives it a special grace, seems to have touched DiCaprio as well. “You realize how lucky we are, and how destructive we’ve been, and what little regard we have for the natural world. In a lot of ways [environmental advocacy] becomes a form of spirituality,” he told Parade Magazine. “And here we are, in this unbelievably heavenly moment on planet Earth, and look how we’re treating this utopia and the fellow life-forms that we live with. It’s disheartening.” A nod from big Hollywood for “this fragile earth our island home’.
There are many glimpses of grace to be found in this film. As in life, as well as in this film, violence and evil are no match for the beauty of the earth/sky and the meanderings of the Holy Spirit through the lives of all God’s creatures.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels