Yesterday, I watched Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a grizzly, half-buried alive, thrown over a waterfall, carried over a cliff on horseback, climb inside a horse carcass to survive a blizzard, and fuse his neck wound shut by igniting gun powder. This was all very unsettling, and I didn’t know how to react to most of what I was seeing. My girlfriend did. She cringed, recoiled, and shielded her eyes in-sync with the rest of the audience. Instead, my lips and forehead were stretched backward into a forced, wide-eyed smile that you’d see in a first grade yearbook.
I even found myself laughing at times. It was far from a comedy, and this was by no means an appropriate reaction to the vast majority of the movie. My laughter was all nerves and stemmed from disbelief. Not disbelief in the plot as much as, “Holy shit, I can’t believe how intense this is.” Yes the plot was incredible, but I’m willing to suspend most disbelief. The director helps this along by establishing, in the opening scene, that as long as Leo is breathing, he’s fighting. It was Inarritu’s way of answering all of our questions about how Leo is ambling around on two broken legs: “He’s fucking tough, ok? Don’t worry about it.”
There was, however, one niggling detail of The Revenant that I refused to overlook, and it wasn’t even that Leo was able to survive the wilderness without a gaggle of supermodels: The characters’ hands never got cold. The movie was set in the Rocky Mountains in the winter, where temperatures are peaking at zero degrees fahrenheit. And yet, whenever the characters weren’t clutching the barrel of a cold, steel rifle, they were using bare hands to dunk canteens into glacial rivers. Not a mitten in sight.
To be fair, the movie does acknowledge the problem of icy hands… once. Young Will Poulter refuses to leave a fire because he’s trying to warm his completely numb hands. But a moment later, his reaction to being pulled away from warmth was one of slight annoyance and not — as it probably should have been — adamant refusal in the face of losing eight fingers to frostbite. I’m not exactly a mountaineer, but I can barely expose my hands to winter winds long enough send a text at the bus stop, before desperately shoving them back into gloves and coat pockets. Frostbite crosses my mind every other day in January, and I live in Chicago — far from the Rockies.
A good survivalist can probably point out another dozen inconsistencies in the movie, starting with how Leo walks away from a twenty minute float down a glacial river looking like he just left a brisk shower. I don’t know the science behind hypothermia to even consider this a fallacy. What I do know is that hands get cold — and useless — fast. It’s an incredible movie, and, being a glutton for some good Earth porn, I’m excited to watch it again. Unfortunately, each time the camera cuts away from Leo, I’ll probably still envision him on the set warming his hands around a cup of hot cocoa, rather than clawing his way across an icy tundra.
After writing this, I found this interesting quote from Leo about the filming:
‘I was cold basically every day, especially my hands… After almost every take, I couldn’t feel them. There was one particular warming machine on set, which was like an industrial-size dryer with eight black tubes extending out of it. I nicknamed it the octopus. It was my savior.’
…I’m sure Hugh Glass had access to something similar when he lived through the movie-inspired events.