The Revenant and Room: survival and cinematography


The Revenant – about a huntsman left for dead in the wilderness after a grizzly bear attack – and Room – about a young boy and his mum kept imprisoned in a small room – are both currently in cinemas.

Image via IMDB

Though they have very different lead characters, both are films about survival. Watching them in quick succession, I was also struck by their common theme of the beginnings and end of life: Room about the desire to protect and maintain childhood for as long as possible; The Revenant about deterministically following a path or river to its ultimate conclusion, and so death.

For all its excellent character development, Room isn’t, I think, quite as good a film as it might be. It is clearly a book adapted as a film, in that there isn’t sufficiently good cinematography to suggest the picture could have been conceived in its own right. A 10ftx10ft room provides plenty of opportunity for certain types of shots, but the film defaults to regular stills of a skylight to the world outside. Handheld camerawork substitutes for the first-person perspective of the 5-year-old boy, and the filmmaking isn’t quite enough to sustain the film beyond the walls of the Room itself during its second half.

the revenant
Image via Awards Daily

The Revenant, however, is remarkable. A shot of a man sleeping inside the body of a dead horse we have just seen him gut – a camera directly above pulling back to show the hollow black and white horse in blood-soaked snow; the view of a distant avalanche in a snowscape as the lead character watches from the foreground: both exceptional, visual images that add to and don’t just serve the story. The emergence of gun barrels from behind a forward-tracking camera in the opening sequence (part of a continuous shot that reminded me of the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan), a camera lens steaming up from a grizzly bear’s breath; blood splattering another lens as it swivels amongst two fighting characters: this is filmmaking and cinematography that puts you immediately in the film without the crassness of a first-person perspective.

We shouldn’t be surprised that The Revenant achieves this: with Alejandro González Iñárritu and Leonardo DiCaprio we have both director and lead actor producing some of the most intriguing film work just now. The standout performance, though, is from Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, who first wishes to see DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass left for dead and later wants to finish the job the grizzly bear started. I don’t know if it’s his sort of thing, but an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor must be a possibility.


A brief thought on disability in A Theory of Everything (updated)

Theory of EveythingTo the cinema to watch A Theory of Everything.

The perspective on disability the film brought was, I thought, excellent. It explicitly included reference to the impact Professor Hawking’s impairment had on his life and the people around him. From a practical view it showed the adjustments the Hawkings had to make in their lives, and the importance of good support that came from a range of different people.

Most satisfyingly, the film clearly captures the fact that Professor Hawking realised his ambitions and what he was capable of irrespective of the barriers – physical, attitudinal, practical – that could have prevented this.

This is perhaps best demonstrated in the sequence following his pneumonia in Bordeaux. A doctor proposes a tracheotomy, meaning Professor Hawking will not be able to speak; feeling that Professor Hawking may not survive a journey back home the doctor asks Jane Hawking to consider ending her husband’s life. Jane refuses and instead finds a way that means Professor Hawking can communicate in a different way. Eventually, of course, he speaks using a synthesized voice – something probably as closely associated with him as black holes.

Without necessarily recognising it, A Theory of Everything provides one of the best representations of the Social Model of Disability I can remember seeing.

(From a film point of view, I think Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking are fantastic. If the Best Actor awards are a straight fight between Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch (for his role as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game) then Redmayne should win hands down. Put simply: Redmayne is Hawking, whereas Cumberbatch is Cumberbatch being Turing.)

Update: The Washington Post shares similar thoughts regarding the film’s portrayal of disability (via @angelamatthews4)

The Bourne Legacy

A rare trip to the cinema last night to watch the fourth installment of the Bourne series, The Bourne Legacy.

I call it the fourth installment when really it’s the first installment of the second series of the Bourne films. Where the first series, with Matt Damon as Bourne, had come to the end of its natural story – Bourne had by the end figured out who he was – so the latest film establishes a new “Bourne” in the shape of Aaron Cross (played well by Jeremy Renner).

The skeptic in me didn’t think there was much left to do with the Bourne concept; a fourth film was surely just about the money?

On the evidence of the film, I’d say not. The first 1.5 hours were excellent, particularly in establishing Cross as an altogether more human, emotional focus, and in the interplay with the timeframe and events of Ultimatum. The last 30 minutes were typical action-thriller spills and stunts and the film was much the worse for it, but I suspect overall Legacy would compare favourably to the first of the Damon-as-Bourne series, Identity.

It will be intriguing to see what story develops around Cross. I’m going to hedge my bets and suggest it will either be:

  • More back story on how Cross became Cross (though this was basically done with the first Bourne series)
  • Following Cross on a specific job after a kiss-and-make-up with the CIA
  • Matt Damon teaming up with Renner in a Bourne-Cross tag team.

My money would be on the last one, if the studio can work out a decent script and make the sums work.

Autism friendly cinema screenings

A couple of weeks ago I blogged on the work of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, campaigning about the poor access that disabled people encounter during something as taken for granted as going to the cinema.

As I noted at the time:

[I]t’s the things that non-disabled people wouldn’t even think of that often scupper the opportunities for disabled people to have the same opportunity to participate equally – in this case, going to the cinema.

In the spirit of sharing good news as well as bad, I was taken by this: Autism Friendly Cinema Screenings

Cinemas are to start staging monthly autism friendly screenings of top films. The move comes after the hugely successful summer pilot which saw more than 3,000 people affected by autism attend special morning screenings.

Sensory friendly screenings will now be taking place monthly in 55 cinemas.

Admittedly, the screenings – the result of a partnership between Dimensions and ODEON – will only be monthly. But at least the particular barriers faced by people with autism have been identified, and the organisations involved should be congratulated for their work on this.

For information: the next screening will be of Johnny English Reborn (during week commencing 14 October), followed by Arthur Christmas (during week commencing 18 November).