‘The Revenant’s’ True Story Is Amazing, But The Movie Is Far Different From The Book

There is no stopping The Revenant. True story or not, it makes an incredible movie. But The Revenant‘s true story basis was not the focus of the movie. Despite that, it already leads in Oscar nominations with 12. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is preparing for another Birdman-like year. If this isn’t the film to cement his legacy, then nothing will be. Leonardo DiCaprio is set to win his first Oscar from this, and Tom Hardy was nominated for his role as supporting actor. The full list of The Revenant‘s Oscar nominations is in the Washington Post.

But what anyone who has seen this film is likely to wonder, besides the awards worthy performances, the early American ways of life, and the stunning natural lighting, The Revenant fiction book that the movie is partially based on, and the true story itself. It’s no wonder The Revenant book, written by U.S. Ambassador to the WTO, Michael Punke, has risen to a place it’s never been, the New York Times bestseller list, and other bestseller lists.

Not only has the book finally reached the list, it’s rising steadily. Currently, it’s at No. 15 on the New York Times fiction list, and No. 2 on the trade paperback fiction list, just below another book which had a successful movie adaptation, The Martian. Watching movies is getting people to read again. And that’s why Punke’s book can gain the life it never had upon its 2002 release. The book was somewhat lauded by critics, but ignored by readers, until Inarritu decided to pick it up and send cast and crew on a journey almost as grueling as what Hugh Glass faces on screen.

It’s an incredible somewhat true story of survival with a gritty, snow covered realism that is not likely to leave you after the awards season. But it is only loosely based on The Revenant book. The movie adds elements the book doesn’t have, and makes Glass’s journey even more perilous, in some ways, but more rational in others. What the real life Hugh Glass experienced is probably something closer to Punke’s book. But Inarritu uses the vehicle of Glass’s story as a starting point and puts the highest elements of his filmmaking on display.

But ScreenCrush recounted the differences between the two forms of Hugh Glass’ story, while noting that both aren’t totally accurate.

“In the book, Hugh Glass’ thirst for vengeance is driven by the fact that two men robbed him on his deathbed and he wants his valuable rifle, and his basic dignity, back. In the movie, Iñárritu and Smith give Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) a half-Native American son who gets murdered before his dying eyes by the racist Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). In the book, Glass retreats to civilization to mend his wounds, resupply, and set out in search of the men who left him for dead. In the movie, he wanders aimlessly through the wilderness, experiencing dream, Terrence Mallick-lite flashbacks to happier times, eventually happening across his target. The book climaxes in a courtroom. The movie climaxes with two men engaged in a knife fight to the death in a snowy clearing. Characters based on real historical figures who went on to have long lives and careers meet grisly ends in the movie, which makes the already loose connection to the book’s already loose ‘true story’ genuinely hilarious.”

The story forces movie viewers and book readers to look back at what made America, and how they fit into that whole historical picture. It makes a person wonder how one would survive and make a living at all in early America, not just when confronted with monstrous animals. But that is the wonder and appeal of westerns. Perhaps it’s a visceral appeal that stems from something ancestrally spiritual, as everyone here today would have had an ancestor who went about his or her daily life in some way similar to these people.

Maybe they didn’t think they were too bad off back then. Look at the much simpler pleasures and aspirations, like the fun time that Hugh Glass and his Pawnee friend have catching snowflakes on their tongue, while resting after eating raw buffalo liver. But all are just variations on Hugh Glass’s story, both calling themselves The Revenant. True story or somewhat true story, art and life are never mutually exclusive.

[Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images]