More than a little Wilderness-Porn-in-Cinemascope threatens to overwhelm Iñárritu’s severe and epic tale of a long journey. Ultimately these breathtaking scenarios fail though, fail to distract us from the narrative questions that creep, crawl and stumble through these mountains, forests, rivers and vistas. The lack of dental plans, coiffure regimen and anesthesia convincingly forces the audience to abandon any romantic notion of this period in the West; these characters seem as foreign and distasteful as the most barbarian invaders that any of us have encountered.
On the other hand, the incremental force of will that drives Hugh Glass forward overwhelms the viewer’s horror at the conditions and events that make his journey so difficult. Ultimately the film doesn’t feel triumphant or inspiring or any of the emotions that we hope for at the weekend movies after a week of slogging through our own banal wilderness. What it does provide though is a record of the resilience of human spirit to persist: a vision humble enough to renounce what should be renounced, to grieve what must be grieved and to keep moving toward the ever-shifting promise (even as it shifts, morphs, wanes and almost evaporates). The past should haunt us, motivate us, inform us, but we can never move toward it — only away from it.