'The Revenant': What does the movie's violence mean for its awards season chances?

'Revenant,' which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, includes scenes that many critics say are difficult to watch. Will this hurt the movie's chances with the Academy?

Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox/AP
'The Revenant' stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

“The Revenant,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a real-life figure who managed to survive in the wilderness after being attacked by a bear, will expand the number of theaters in which it’s playing following a limited release on Dec. 25.

The film is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who helmed last year’s Oscar Best Picture winner, “Birdman,” and picked up the best director prize for his work on the movie. 

“Revenant” also stars actors including Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter.

The movie has received fairly positive reviews so far and is thought of by many industry watchers as a solid Best Picture nominee. The fact that Iñárritu, last year’s big winner at the Oscars ceremony, is directing the movie no doubt also made those in Hollywood sit up and pay attention as well.

“Revenant” has received praise for DiCaprio’s performance, but some have flinched at the movie’s violent scenes. The movie includes a scene in which DiCaprio’s character is attacked by a bear, and various gruesome depictions of what his character, Hugh Glass, must do to survive. 

If the movie does earn a Best Picture nomination and even manages to take the big prize, it would echo the selection of past movies that were also called difficult to sit through but that the Academy nonetheless said were the best of their respective years. 

The Academy has shown in the past it won’t discard a Best Picture nominee or even Best Picture winner because of violence. Many said it was difficult to watch one recent Best Picture winner, the 2013 movie “12 Years a Slave,” because of depictions of life as a slave in America, including violent scenes of slaves being punished.

Another recent winner, the 2007 movie “No Country for Old Men,” depicted the violent rampage of a hit man, but the film was selected by the Academy as the best of the year. The winner from the year before, the 2006 movie “The Departed,” showed the conflict between law enforcement and criminals. All of these movies were rated R for reasons involving violence.

The Academy, though, seems to have felt that the sequences in these winners were at the service of the movie and may feel the same with “Revenant.” Of “12 Years a Slave,” Monitor film critic Peter Rainer wrote that the movie is “necessary” and has “truly searing” moments. 

With “Country,” Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert noted that the movie is “a character study, an examination of how its people meet and deal with a man so bad, cruel and unfeeling that there is simply no comprehending him.” The violence committed by Anton Chigurh demonstrates just how amoral he is. 

Viewers and critics alike may flinch from some of the scenes in “Revenant,” but if the intense scenes help the story, the Academy may not hesitate in including the film as a Best Picture contender.

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