On missing the essence of a story: The Revenant

The producers of Hollywood films apparently think revenge is a much more compelling movie subject than is forgiveness.  I just finished reading The Revenant by Michael Punke, the book on which the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu movie, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, was based.

While Punke has no problem admitting  that he used a great deal of poetic license in his telling of the story, his book fails to come to terms with the fact that though Glass may have initially been compelled by revenge after being abandoned and left to die after his mauling by a grizzly bear in 1823, in the end, he did not choose to exact revenge when reunited with the two men who left him to die.

Frederick Manfred’s novel Lord Grizzly, on the other hand, written in 1954, did not shy away from Glass’s ultimate forgiveness.  But that theme did not attract the attention of a director who was the recipient of multiple Academy (and other) Awards.  In Hollywood, revenge is apparently considered much more riveting.

When the movie first came out, the Argus Leader interviewed Frederick Manfred’s son Fred. “Fred, who lives in Luverne, says that he has no plans to see the movie, which he sees as a lost opportunity. In embracing the notion of bloodthirsty revenge for DiCaprio’s character rather than forgiveness, as Manfred espoused in his work, he believes the filmmakers missed the essence of what makes Lord Grizzly so special.

‘We’re a little more enamored with Hugh Glass out here because he did the right thing in the long run,’ says Fred, 61.  ‘Whether it was a spiritual awakening or the way we grew up, we admire him for going through that crawl, finding the guys who left him behind and then ultimately deciding to let it go.'”

Maybe being mauled by a Grizzly and left with what should have been mortal wounds, being abandoned by one’s companions, crawling hundreds of miles to the nearest fort through what is now South Dakota, only to be subsequently attacked by hostile Indians, nearly frozen to death, and narrowly escaping starvation, has more of an impact on those who grew up in the northern plains.  Fredrick Manfred, from Luverne, MN, perhaps understood the transformative impact of putting oneself through even more trauma in order to exact revenge than does Punke.  Perhaps he was more aware of the kinds of decisions that a violent, relentlessly difficult environment demands of all who are at its mercy, even those who make a choice to survive at the expense of others.

What would Hugh Glass have done if he had had to make that choice?   What if he had been the one in imminent mortal danger, having to choose whether to save his own life or the life a man who, by any rational estimation, would die anyway. We don’t know.  But maybe that’s the conclusion he came to in the end.  To forgive an act he well might have chosen himself had the roles been reversed.

The Revenant, $8.00 at The Book Shop.

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