Buddhist Film Critic: The Revenant and The Big Short

lovingkindness meditation, The Revenant, teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Alejandro Iñarritu, The Big ShortI must say, although I am not exactly a Leonardo DiCaprio fan (When I began teaching meditation, I would use his performance in Titanic as my example of a “irritating person” to practice for during lovingkindness meditation – a knee-jerk response for which I assume full accountability), I also get zero joy from his recurring tortures in The Revenant, a film which is probably better titled Watch Leo Suffer (A Lot).

 Alejandro Iñarritu is a deeply talented filmmaker, and a meditator, as evidenced by Birdman (which was supposedly somehow influenced by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh). The photographic quality of Iñarritu’s movies is amazing, and The Revenant is perhaps his most visually beautiful film, set among the cold landscape of the 1820’s in Montana, involving brutal collisions between opportunistic white fur traders and several warring Native American tribes.

The film itself is brutal and cynical, and sadly, the plot is a reductively simplistic revenge narrative. Never mind their moral issues; revenge narratives are almost always deeply boring (except for The Princess Bride, of course). You can see the climax coming over an hour away, and you don’t really care that much because the character you are supposed to care for is already dead, and anyway, you’ve seen this all before. To commit yourself emotionally, you have to accept the fact that you are just watching an unoriginally violent reaction to an unoriginally violent action. This particular script steals from a wide variety of things you’ve seen before: The Unforgiven, Gladiator, Dances With Wolves, and even The Empire Strikes Back (although in a much more beautifully disgusting manner). Luckily, Tom Hardy joins in and acts his scalp off (literally) in a supporting role.

I am worried that the visual beauty of this film is going to lead it to win many Oscars (The Oscars have been deeply criticized for lack of diversity, and this film easily adds to the damaging perception that the white protagonist is the only person who really matters in the beginning, middle, and end), even though as far as a story is concerned, there just isn’t much here except for cynicism, and tropes you’ve seen before, along with an amazing Grizzly Bear you will never want to meet again. Sadly, this is probably one of the most visually stunning, well-edited, bad movies you will ever see.

Then there is The Big Short, one of the two or three movies of the past year that are my favorites. Hilariously dissecting the events that led to the 2008 mortgage crisis and almost destroyed the global economy, this movie is part tongue-in-cheek, part deadly serious explanation of everything that is wrong with our culture of greed-on-steroids and the unchecked power of investment firms and Wall Street banks.

Christian Bale and Steve Carrell are both amazing in this movie, and Ryan Gosling departs from his “hey girl” schtick long enough to be quite plausible as a Wall Street shark. It is also interesting to watch a mainstream Hollywood movie basically function as a 2+ hour advertisement for a Bernie Sanders presidency (he already had my vote, and this partially clarified why). The problem facing any true progressive voice is that so few of us can understand the economic instruments that allow greed to run rampant, and at least this movie tries to be entertaining while attempting to communicate the issues involved (I still only 2/3 get what happened). The acting is good, the storytelling is light and funny, and the end (which brings us to right up to now) is perfectly frightening, because the problem, the movie argues, remains perfectly intact.

In other news, NYC got 26.8″ of snow, which missed the all-time snowfall record by 0.1″
You win some, you lose some.

4 thoughts on “Buddhist Film Critic: The Revenant and The Big Short

  1. H. Glass was a real mountain man, and he was not only attacked and severely wounded by a mother grizzly with cubs, in 1823, he was abandoned as portrayed in the film. However, he did not have a son, and , most importantly, and most symptomatic of the corruption in American cinema, he found his tormentor but made the choice not to seek revenge and murder him. Hollywood, of course, neglected to tell this story of restraint and honor in order to maximize profits…..Capitalist corruption of history at it’s best

  2. Funny, just yesterday my wife, my youngest daughter & I happened to talk about the new Tarantino, the “Hateful Eight”. I then said that I don’t like a lot of Tarantino because of the revenge stories. For me, the corruption of revenge stories lies in glorifying something (thus also propagating it) which is in reality a dirty, revolting disappointment. And now you’re saying something similar. Thanks for your piece.

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