In this film Leo di Caprio plays Hugh Glass, the man who will not die.
The film is set in the American West, in the 1820s. Glass is a guide in the wilderness, charged with leading a group of trackers around the brutal landscape of Montana.
He is attacked by a bear, gravely injured, and eventually left for dead by the people charged with taking care of him. He spends the rest of the film simply staying alive, kept that way by thoughts of revenge.
In fact, pretty much all Glass does throughout the film is not die. There is no real substantive story, apart from that. He finds many ways to avoid dying, has adventures and meets people along the way, but in essence this is a story of bare survival.
The landscape is another character in the tale, the brutal, snow-battered country in the mountains of the American West is the backdrop for Glass’s feats of staying alive. It was apparently filmed in all natural light, and does look impressive, at times breathtaking.
And yet, the film is a tale of a superhuman feat of survival, a story of an ordeal. And at times watching the film itself is a bit of an ordeal, it is intense, bloody and violent, and after a while a little tedious. The unremitting misery and danger that Di Caprio’s character goes through is impressive at first, but soon becomes repetitive. One near-death experience runs into the next, until it all seems a little samey.
Makes an impression, but all the snow and ice and not dying gets old quickly.
Room, on the other hand, is remarkable. It is a gruesome story too, a tale of horror and fear and survival. But it is so much more than that.
A young woman is kidnapped by a man when she is seventeen, and imprisoned in the shed in his garden. He has a security system set up so that only he can get in and out.
After two years she is impregnated by her captor (who she calls Old Nick), and has a son. And this son, Jack, grows into a little boy, whose whole world is Room.
The first half of the film is set in Room, and is as claustrophobic and anxiety-producing as you would imagine. Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack’s whole world is in that five metre by five metre space, they have no contact with the outside world. The sense of threat and imminent violence builds with each visit by Old Nick to their room, and Ma is on the verge of cracking.
And then, through small acts of heroism by both of Ma and Jack, things change. And when they change they change utterly. The captured girl who Jack knows as Ma now has her identity returned to her, and is called Joy again by parents and friends. And this is where the movie expands and grows, just as Joy and Jack’s world expands
The whole experience of watching this film is extremely powerful, just as the experiences portrayed are so profound and effecting. It is impossible to be unengaged watching these two people dealing with massive trauma and then the world opening up.
The story itself is extraordinary, but the treatment of it, by Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, is careful and subtle and, in the end, massively powerful. An engrossing, overwhelming film.
The Revanant will win Best Picture at the Oscars, there is nothing more predictable than the Academy recognising something as grandiose as Iñarritu’s film. But Room is the movie of the year, streets ahead of Di Caprio and his stubborn insistence on staying alive.