Revenant is certainly one of the most intense films and raw from the last decade. Set around 1823, in Missouri, Iñárritu's film harks back to a terrifying adventure in the wild west.
The plot revolves around the revenge of the scout Hugh Glass who, having survived an attack by the Arikara Indians with a few others, is nearly killed by a Grizzly bear. Sure he doesn't have much left to live, his companions entrust the last moments to his teenage son Hawk, young Jim Bridger, and shady John Fitzgerald. He first tries to kill Glass, then treacherously assassinates Hawk, and then deceives Bridger and persuades him to follow him. Glass is not dead though. Wounded, almost dying, he will find himself struggling to survive, incessantly haunted by his past and the desire for revenge, within an inhospitable and wild territory. But how much truth is there in the events narrated in Revenant?
The granite Hugh Glass
Let's start with the protagonist. Hugh Glass really existed and was an explorer and hunter. A past as a naval captain and then as a pirate, he abandoned his family in Pennsylvania and had a hard time before the events seen in the film. He lived with the Pawnee for a long time, after being captured by them, but there is no record that he had a son or even married. He was also not the leader of the group, in fact he did not know much about the territory, although he was one of the most experienced hunters and one of the best shooters of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company expedition.
Hugh Glass was attacked by the grizzly bear on the Grand River in what is now South Dakota, several months after the onslaught of the natives with which Iñárritu's film begins. They are therefore two separate events and contrary to what is shown in The Revenant Glass he did not kill the bear, but was rescued after a few minutes by his companions, who shot down the beast.
The brigade feared another assault from the Arikara Indians and a man in the condition he was in Glass was a danger to everyone, risked making them vulnerable. Confident that he would die within hours of his very serious injuries, Captain Henry asked John Fitzgerald and young Jim Bridger to stay with him until he passed away.
Surprisingly, Glass did not die. After a week, Fitzgerald convinced the very young Bridger that if they stayed there they would die for nothing. The two left Glass totally defenseless near the river.
A lonely and desperate man
Glass had a fractured leg, several broken ribs and very deep wounds all over his body. When he recovered, realizing the desperate situation in which he found himself, he did not lose heart. He couldn't walk, so for the first few days he stayed by the river, eating what he found. He healed his leg as best he could, and covered his wounds with maggots, which ate the infected flesh. By doing so, it prevented gangrene.
Glass, contrary to what was shown, did not have any confrontation with the Arikara, nor did he encounter an outcast. Fort Kiowa, their base, was 250 miles away. He ate carrion, fought against wolves on a buffalo carcass (in this the film is faithful). He was moved only by the desire for revenge towards those who had abandoned him. After six weeks, he reached Fort Kiowa, so he was not found by Major Henry as in the movie.
He immediately found the very young Jim Bridger. However, the boy expressed deep remorse for what he had done, and given his very young age (he was only 17) Glass spared him. It was a smart choice, because Jim Bridger would become one of the greatest explorers, mountaineers and trappers of history, a true legend of the wild West, as well as one of the most respected and respected whites by the natives.
The fate of John Fitzgerald
Is John Fitzgerald? Contrary to what the character played by a very good Tom Hardy has shown in the film, there was no stampede and much less killed Captain Andrew Henry.
In fact, shortly after arriving at Fort Kiowa, the vile trapper had in fact enlisted in the army. Glass left with four companions to Fort Artkinson, Nebraska, where Fitzgerald had been sent. On his canoe trip along the Platt River, he came across a tribe from Arikara, whose leader knew Glass. Apparently peaceful, the Indians instead treacherously attacked the five trappers, killing two.
Glass escaped by hiding and was able to return to Fort Kiowa. He left quickly there, reaching Fitzgerald in Nebraska. He could not take revenge on a man in the United States army, under penalty of hanging. But he made it clear that if he ever dropped his uniform, he would kill him.
No final revenge then for Hugh Glass, who could not keep his promise to Fitzgerald. The clashes with the Arikara and other natives (the so-called Arikara War) continued for years and in 1833, Glass fell with other comrades in an ambush near Yellowstone and ended up killed.
The war between Arikara and white men
So much imagination in Coming back. But one thing is perfectly true: the battle on the Missouri River. In 1823 the Arikara Indians, often referred to as Ree by the mountain men, had villages on the banks of the Missouri River. The Arikara fought against several trapper companies, including those rivals to the group of which Glass was a part and they made no distinction between white men.
General Ashley (head of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company) tried to enter into trade negotiations with the Arikara, but the next morning the warriors attacked Ashley's men. Apparently for the attempted rape of a woman by one of the trappers during the night. 15 men were killed, 11 wounded and Glass was shot in the leg.
In the film, survivors are seen abandoning the boat, but in reality the sturdy boat was impregnable to the Indians and in fact Glass and the others managed to return to Fort Kiowa.
However, net of several freedoms from the facts, Revenant remains a great movie and one of the best interpretations of Leonardo DiCaprio.