On the surface, The Revenant is a revenge film. Co-writer Mark L. Smith and co-writer/director Alejandro Iñárritu weren’t particularly interested in the revenge element, though. To them, The Revenant is about much more than that — a spiritual journey through what’s both heaven and hell.
After the jump, Smith shares what the original driving force of The Revenant was.
Smith wrote about 10 to 12 drafts, before beginning to collaborate with Iñárritu. In the novel, like the film, Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is left for dead, with his rifle stolen. In Smith’s original version, that rifle was more than just a rifle. The character goes on a journey to avenge his dead son, to kill his murderer, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).
The Revenant went through some changes, and one of those changes involved motivation. Here’s what screenwriter Mark L. Smith told us about his first crack at the story:
In my earlier drafts before Alejandro came on, my father-son stuff was different. My story was that the son had died previous to the journey, that he had been sick while he was young. You open with these scenes of Glass and son, carving a star in a hunting rifle — the stock of a hunting rifle. While they’re carving the star, the son is coughing and you know he’s dying. The son pricks his finger and blood falls into the star on the rifle, and then you flash forward and we’re right where we are with the attack. Glass is still holding the rifle, but it’s very worn and you can still see the star on the stock of the rifle. When Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) leave him, in my earlier drafts, Fitzgerald took the rifle. All Glass wanted to do was hold his rifle, so he’s gripping his rifle, because it means so much to him. Glass’ journey was less about revenge, more about getting his rifle back — which is almost like his son. It was almost a kidnapping story at that point. I didn’t like the revenge thing, so I didn’t go that route. Then Alejandro came in and added the son, because he thought it could be really powerful, and the idea because of he’s half-Native American the racism angle could come in and you could show the cultures and how they blended together. We both felt revenge was empty — a goal without a reward. It’s hard to celebrate, because the character is lost. Revenge is the spark that gets him going, but it’s a spiritual journey.
The revenge element in The Revenant is slightly unorthodox; it’s not about catharsis. The character goes on this excruciatingly long journey, and for what? If Hugh Glass kills the man responsible for his misery, what will he get out of it? If The Revenant only involved the rifle, it’d be a slightly different story, but the core of the film — the spiritual journey Smith speaks of — would have remained the same.
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