What is the most powerful force within the human psyche?

The Apostle Paul says there is only one force in the world for which people will move heaven and earth, a force which people will ultimately, and justly, die for – and that force is love. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Love endures all things...

Like being mauled by a thousand-pound grizzly bear, and being buried alive, and being tracked by a tribe of Native Americans with blood in their eyes, and being carried over waterfalls in frigid water, wearing elk skin clothes and the fur of a bear, and eating raw fish and the raw liver of a still-warm bison and carving out the innards of a dead horse to weather the night, naked and shivering, inside the carcass.

Love endures even these things. It may be the greatest power in the world.

But according to Alejandro Inarritu’s new, raw and gripping film “The Revenant” there may be a force of equal power. Much of the frontier scenery in Inarritu’s film is shot in natural light, giving it a breathtaking naturalism, and the powerful truth- becomes-legend story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) adds a heartbreaking realism.

Love is real. But so is the hateful power of revenge.

Or, maybe they are two sides of the same naked, human emotion, always warring within us, enduring all things – or inflicting all things – in a quest for submission and supremacy.

This beautiful, awful film opens with Glass wandering in disbelieving agony through what is left of his smoldering outpost home. The image of his dying love haunts him throughout the movie. As he begins a journey through the rugged, frozen terrain of the frontier West, he is mauled by that mammoth grizzly and then betrayed and left for dead.

Exhibiting superhuman strength and tenacity, enduring things that are difficult even to watch, Glass becomes The Revenant (“the returner”). In the end, however, the viewer is left wondering if there is anything to which he can actually return. Or has the journey so depleted him of heart and humanity that there will be nothing left worth returning from?

The final frame of the film subtly, but powerfully, leaves the viewer to decide.

The aching question becomes whether he is driven by love or hate? Driven by a justice which can let go – or by a revenge that both endures all things, and destroys all things, in the process.

Love offers a future. Revenge is the end of the road. Depending on the viewer’s perspective, either glint can be seen in Glass’s final stare.

As we stand at the beginning of a new year, this visceral film offers a powerful critique in the question it begs of our world. So many divisive issues threaten our peace and our future, and no one could question the want of revenge (which many believe to be justified).

But the question will remain for us as it did for Hugh Glass: when we have responded, will there be anything left to which we can return? 


Photo Credit:  Kris Williams