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February 2016: Why the movie “The Revenant” is like a bad wrestling match

**CAUTION** this blog is polluted with spoilers about the film The Revenant, so if you aren’t prepared for that, read no further until you’ve seen the movie.

Still here? Okay, let’s go.

I see a beautiful forest landscape of pine trees and rolling hills and mountains. I see guys dressed in costumes that seem believable for that time period. I see them carrying guns and ammunition believable for that time period. I see nothing that wouldn’t lead me to believe that they aren’t actually RIGHT THERE in that moment. I’m interested, I’m listening … I’m starting to believe. I start to learn more about the characters - what their names are, what kind of people they are, where they come from, what they stand for. I’m beginning to become immersed in the film and sucked into its world. Then, he gets mauled by the bear.

I mean, okay, yeah, it’s shocking, it’s gruesome, it’s graphic and realistic. I suppose you could really get mauled by a bear if you were walking alone through the forest, right? But could you survive? If a ferocious six hundred pound creature with razor sharp teeth and jaws of death is bearing down upon you, clawing your back, biting your throat and stepping on your skull … how long would you last? After the thing thinks you’re dead, loses interest and wanders off, what would you do? Could you even do anything at all? Well, if you’re Hugh Glass, you don’t just lie there and wait for him to leave, you crawl over to your gun and shoot that damn bear in the shoulder as he’s running back towards you. Then, you take another mauling, even worse than the one before that.

Okay, that’s two maulings now. You think he would learn his lesson, right? Wrong. This time he grabs his knife. Maybe if a gunshot didn’t kill the bear, a knife will. So the bear runs back over again and begins the THIRD mauling - scratching, clawing, biting, stepping on his head etc, but as it’s doing this, Hugh is stabbing him in the face, the neck and the shoulder. The bear takes a few stabs, then Hugh falls down a hill with the dying bear right behind him. The bear ends up on top of him. A six hundred pound dead bear is on top of him. He’s been clawed, bitten, scratched, stepped on, mauled and basically raped by a grizzly bear and he’s bleeding to death as the unbearable pain of a enormous fully grown mother bear lay on top of him. Then, just in the nick of time, his buddies show up to roll the bear off him and bandage up his wounds.

Well, okay, maybe I can bear the maulings. After all, I’m still pretty much in shock at this point after having just witnessed a human being get mauled by a bear - disgusted and in shock, but still interested. But what happens next and continues to happen throughout the movie completely annihilates any suspension of disbelief, or my ability to go along with and believe in the movie. Maybe that’s because not only does this guy survive THREE bear maulings, but he also gets carried on a makeshift stretcher through the forest for hours, maybe days, in sub-zero temperatures with a few puny blankets covering him, gets BURIED ALIVE, survives on a diet of bugs, grass, dirt and raw meat, gets washed down the rapids of a river (in freezing cold water, in the middle of winter), survives a blizzard in a little hut made of tree branches by a helpful Indian, saves a woman from being raped, falls off a cliff and spends the night in the carcass of a dead horse.

They lost me at the bear mauling … the second mauling. So for the next hour and a half I just had to sit in the theater and bear the rest of the movie.

A lot of wrestling matches are the same way. They do things that are so unfounded in common sense and reality that it’s completely impossible to believe for a minute that these are two guys fighting inside a ring and competing to win a wrestling match, so instead, the only thing I focus on is that these are just two guys covered in baby oil, wearing shiny lycra and pretending to hurt each other.

When sequences in a wrestling match are overly-choreographed and look too good, it’s obvious that they planned it, even if they do it perfectly and don’t screw anything up. If they do screw something up, it becomes even more obvious that it’s fake, but it also adds the additional embarrassment factor.

What I want is a match (or movie) that looks so real you can allow yourself to believe that it is without noticing any clues along the way that it’s not. The more clues you notice, the harder it is to keep believing.

Maybe some wrestlers have already caught on to that and think - screw it. People already know it’s fake, so why bother trying to make them believe? In that case I’ll just do a springboard shooting star press from the top rope to the outside of the ring while there are five other people on the outside of the ring pretending to be dizzy with their arms all around each other, waiting to catch me. Or maybe I’ll just take off all my clothes and leave them in the snow, then spend the night in a horse’s carcass and when I wake up in the morning my clothes aren’t frozen at all and I’ll just put them back on and walk back to the fort.

When you buy a ticket and sit down in the movie theater to watch a movie, or when you buy a ticket and sit down in your chair to watch a wrestling show, you are essentially exchanging your money for a chance to forget about reality and become a part of a different world for a little while. You check your over-analytical mind at the door and just sit back, relax and let the story telling take you on a rollercoaster ride. It’s the actors’ and wrestlers’ job to be able to provide a realistic enough performance to keep you hooked and keep you believing.

So, if you like death match wrestling - broken glass, barbed wire, flaming tables, light tubes, and the like, you’ll LOVE The Revenant. It’s gory, it’s brutal, it’s bloody, it’s graphic and it’s violent. But if you’re going for any other reason, I’d wait to borrow the DVD from a friend. And if you like Cirque de Soleil, watch pro wrestling where they do incredible athletic maneuvers that they don’t sell at all and then ask the audience for their approval.

I certainly don’t discount the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio at all. He was great. He may even win an Oscar. He did the best he could with the cards he was dealt. It’s the same with wrestling. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Sometimes there are other people writing the stories that are played out by the extraordinary athletes in the ring. Other times, though, it’s the wrestlers themselves who decide on exactly what will happen out there. Either way, I say less bells and whistles and more storytelling and selling allows me to sink my teeth into what I’m watching and lets that wave of temporary intrigue and believability to wash over me.

- Daniel Austin (Don Roid) (blog) (podcast)


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