The Revenant and the real Hugh Glass: how historically accurate is the film? (2022)

In the long middle of The Revenant, somewhere between the DIY throat-repair scene and the hero’s taking of shelter inside a dead gutted horse, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass happens upon a mountain of bison skulls. He stares up at the pyramid, dumbstruck by the carnage. The fog of his breath in the freezing mountain air communicates his sorrow. It’s one of dozens of terrifying and beautiful moments in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar-nominated movie, and it underscores the existential brutality of Glass’s ordeal. He is not merely surviving a natural wilderness; he is crawling through a graveyard made by American violence, racism and greed.

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The bison skull pyramid is historic. We know heaps of bones like this existed because photographers took pictures of them. The images that inspired the moviemakers haunt the internet on numerous websites. A professional hunter, Glass saw plenty of bison remains, but he never witnessed a gigantic pile of them. The craniums accumulated near western railroad depots for shipment back east to be ground up as fertilizer. Railroads, fertiliser factories and photographs were as alien to Glass as airplanes, technology parks and ‘selfies’. The pyramids and the business that spawned them belonged in the 1870s; Glass was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead in 1823.

Hugh Glass being left to his fate having been savaged by a bear, 1978 (gouache on paper), Baraldi, Severino (b1930)/Private Collection/© Look and Learn/Bridgeman Images

The bison skulls represent the pastiche that qualifies as history in The Revenant. Inspired by real people and events, the movie collects basically accurate moments and scatters them around to create sensations of veracity. For example, the Arikara attack that opens the movie did happen; Glass and his fur-trapping colleagues did indeed swim for their keelboats to escape with their lives. If you watch carefully, however, you can spot a visitation from a ghost from the fur trade past that is out of time and place.

(Video) Is The Revenant based on a true story?

Just as the mayhem kicks off, a naked white man flashes (literally) on screen before being felled by a shower of arrows. At the sight of the man, someone yells “Colter!” This blip is a treat for mountain man buffs. A fur trapper named John Colter performed a famous nude run across the Great Plains in 1809 to elude a party of Blackfeet Indians who took his gun and stripped him bare. Colter was not with Glass and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company men at the Arikara battle. Colter was real, and he endured a hellacious western ordeal, but he did not belong in The Revenant.

The list of basically accurate but misplaced people, events and attitudes includes Colter; the bison skull pyramid; the United States Army’s attack on the peaceful Native American village; Hugh Glass’s wife and son; and the virulent racism of the film’s villain, Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald. Colter, the skulls and the US attacks on civilians existed in different time periods. Following the Civil War the US military targeted several Indian encampments in the winter, burning homes and killing women and children, to cripple the groups’ ability to feed and clothe themselves and to force them to return to reservations. The primary targets for this ‘total war’ strategy, however, were not the Pawnees – who often acted as American allies and worked as scouts for the US Army – but the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux. The assault that took Glass’s beloved Pawnee wife and set the stage for his revenge seeking was a fiction sprinkled with bits of true Indian history from a future period.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in 'The Revenant'. Copyright Twentieth Century Fox. (MovieStillsDB.com)

It would have been unsurprising if Glass had a Pawnee wife and child, but there is no proof that he did. Western fur traders and Indian women often formed partnerships and families to ease economic transactions. Likewise, slavery and racism were prominent features of the US in the 1820s, especially in St Louis, where the Rocky Mountain Fur Company gathered its employees. Western hunters, however, had a reputation for befriending and loving non-white peoples. The harsh racial divisions that Fitzgerald tries to enforce, and that Glass tries to instruct his son, Hawk, to tread lightly around, were not the only ways of thinking about race in the west of the 1820s.

But do these discrepancies matter? I, for one, enjoyed the movie and was blown away by the vision of Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The bear attack and the outrageous suffering Glass endured hit the historical mark with remarkable accuracy. And, in the end, unlike historians, filmmakers can always fall back on artistic inspiration to excuse moving piles of bones across space and time to create the perfect elegiac tone.

(Video) The Revenant Is Historically Inaccurate Review

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Given how little we actually know about Hugh Glass, movies like these are not without their own historical merit. Glass was not, after all, that accurate to begin with. We only have one of his letters and he never wrote or spoke about the bear attack, the crawl or his revenge with actual historical reporters. Storytellers therefore reconstructed the events from second- and third-hand accounts. And they reconstructed quickly and enthusiastically.

Glass was attacked by the bear in 1823, and by 1825 he had become a fictionalised character in stories published in a Philadelphia literary magazine and in eastern newspapers. The bear that gashed his body opened him up to artistic exploitation, and imagination flowed in and carried him into the future on tales composed by others. Glass comes to us as make-believe as well as history, and he demonstrates how art and life got mixed together from the start. The Revenant is the latest piece of culture floating in a storytelling current that started when a trapper accidentally stepped between a mother grizzly and her cubs.

Hugh Glass being savaged by a bear, 1978 (gouache on paper), Baraldi, Severino (b1930)/Private Collection/© Look and Learn/Bridgeman Images

The truth of Hugh Glass is far less satisfying than the fictions surrounding him. He pops into sight in 1823, signing an employment contract with the St Louis fur company run by William Henry Ashley and Andrew Henry. Later stories say that Glass came from Pennsylvania or maybe Scotland. Some tales say he was a sailor who was captured by the Gulf Coast pirate Jean Lafitte and that he escaped to join the Pawnees, who taught him how to hunt beaver and bison in the west. After the bear attack and recovery, Glass continued working in the fur trade. He appears in business records and is mentioned several times in letters and reminiscences. Glass was killed during a skirmish with the Arikaras in 1833.

(Video) Everything Wrong With The Revenant In 9 Minutes Or Less

The historic record of Hugh Glass was as bare-boned as a bison skull. There’s no proof where he came from or what he did before joining the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. His life post-mauling was better documented, but there is no diary or interview that offers a glimpse into his thoughts and passions. Dreams and stories have filled the blank spaces he left behind.

Jon T Coleman is a professor at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and the author of Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation (Hill & Wang, 2012). To find out more, click here. You can follow Jon on Twitter @lostjcoleman.

FAQs

How historically accurate is The Revenant? ›

It is a fictionalized account “inspired by” the story of the Hugh Glass grizzly attack, his survival, and search for revenge. It is not intended to tell the real story of Hugh Glass.

Was the movie The Revenant a true story? ›

Iñárritu's film is actually based on a 2002 work of fiction about Glass' journey. But the main plot points of the film are real: Yes, Hugh Glass existed, he did get attacked by a bear and survived.

What is the true story of Hugh Glass? ›

Hugh Glass was an American frontiersman and fur trapper who became a folk hero after surviving a bear attack and then traveling hundreds of miles alone to safety. His legend lives on through numerous articles and books as well as several films, including The Revenant (2015), in which Leonardo DiCaprio starred as Glass.

Is The Revenant bear attack realistic? ›

Although the bear we see on screen isn't real, the production did make use of a bear safety coordinator during the now-famously grueling shoot in the wilds of British Columbia, according to the film's studio-provided production notes.

Did Leonardo DiCaprio eat a real liver in The Revenant? ›

DiCaprio's bite of bison was 100% real

[I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly." One particular entry on the menu that was really hard to swallow (literally) was the aforementioned bison liver that the actor himself chose to eat.

What true events inspired The Revenant? ›

The Revenant is based on the highly recognised figure in American history, Hugh Glass. Hugh Glass was an American frontiersman and fur trapper working as a guide for General William Henry Ashley in 1823, which is when his encounter with the bears took place.

What is the meaning behind the revenant? ›

Denoting “one that returns after death or a long absence,” revenant is a borrowing from French that was originally formed from the present participle of the verb revenir ("to return"). It literally means “one coming back,” either from another place or from the dead.

Was a horse killed in the revenant? ›

The Revenant

Have they also told you that it was a real dead horse? If so, take comfort from the fact that, well, it wasn't. It has since been revealed that 'a set piece' was used in this scene. 'The horse was built and the guts inside were created out of latex and hair,' explains production designer Jack Fisk.

Is glass alive in the revenant? ›

There is no uplift for Hugh Glass as the fierce cold continues to rot his body and soul. There is only the sound of his breathing. That is because he does not die. Hugh Glass lives on in this perpetually unfair mortal coil while his wife, much like the indigenous people she represents, fades away.

How long did Hugh Glass survive? ›

Glass was a trapper in South Dakota, where he was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his companions. Fueled by revenge and the will to survive, he crawled for 6 weeks to the nearest settlement, Fort Kiowa, near present-day Chamberlain.

What does the ending of the Revenant mean? ›

His wife's appearance can be read as a moment of questioning: an “Are you ready to join me yet?” inquiry. The continued breath into the credits implies his answer: no. He still has breath, so he must continue to fight, else he would be a hypocrite to the life-affirming philosophy he imparted to his son.

How did the Indian heal Glass in revenant? ›

It's one of the greatest survival stories in American history and yet it would have never happened if Glass didn't have the knowledge that maggots could be used to heal his wounds.

Can a human beat a black bear? ›

NO WAY absolutely NOT, bears are way bigger and stronger than humans and are better armed with sharp claws and 1000psi bite force.

Can bears break glass doors? ›

Bears use their claws, paws, and sheer brute force to pick, scratch, break, and ultimately open your doors and windows.

Can you survive a bear attack in the long dark? ›

Strategy. Bears can easily be outrun if you start running before they get too close, but once they are on you, it is extremely hard to survive. There is no fight-back mechanic for the bear attack, the character will get mauled but will not kill the character if they had full health beforehand.

Does DiCaprio eat meat? ›

Leonardo DiCaprio Is A Vegetarian, But He Ate Meat For This Role By Hannah Wigandt Published Apr 09, 2021 Leo really threw himself into this role by defying his vegetarianism.

Is Leonardo DiCaprio a smoker in real life? ›

Things surely have changed over the years. Leonardo DiCaprio has now started using electronic cigarettes. He publicly uses his vape pen unapologetically and even grabbed a lot of eyeballs when he smoked a puff during an interview in 2017. As most know, Leonardo rose to fame with his role in Titanic.

Is it safe to eat raw bison? ›

And while the USDA recommends all rare bison steaks be cooked to a minimum of 145°F before consuming, buffalo can be eaten raw (there are numerous recipes online for buffalo tartare).

Does Hugh Glass survive at the end of The Revenant? ›

The closing images of the film are of Hugh Glass watching in utter despair as she turns away from his snow-encrusted beard and walks into the distance while he keeps breathing. He keeps breathing even after the credits have begun.

Who was Leonardo DiCaprio inspired by? ›

Leonardo DiCaprio has a close relationship with his father, George, that has influenced his storied career. The 45-year-old actor attended the 2020 Oscar Nominees Luncheon last Monday alongside George, 76.

Did Fitzgerald scalp the captain? ›

Late in the film, Fitzgerald becomes the scalper, as well as the scalped. Having killed one of his pursuers, he unsheathes a knife and takes the man's scalp: his dexterity as a fur trapper now deployed on humans.

Who hung the Indian in The Revenant? ›

When Glass wakes up, he sees that the Indian has been hanged by the French fur trappers. He infiltrates their camp and witnesses one of the men raping a woman. It is Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk'o).

What does revenant mean in the Bible? ›

The Anchor Bible Dictionary describes it as "What is left of a community after it undergoes a catastrophe". The concept has stronger representation in the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament than in the Christian New Testament.

Can a horse freeze to death? ›

It doesn't happen very often, but horses can freeze to death. Although horse's bodies are incredible at keeping them warm, hypothermia can happen and when it does, hypothermia for horses is usually fatal.

Has a horse ever killed a person? ›

Roy Kinnear (1934–1988), British character actor, bled to death due to a broken pelvis sustained in a fall from a horse. Christopher Reeve (1952–2004), actor, paralyzed on May 27, 1995 from the neck down following a fall from his horse while riding cross-country in a 3-day event.

What happens to a horse after it dies? ›

All horses, when they die, must be disposed of immediately with very few exceptions and they must be delivered to a premises approved for proper collection and disposal of animal carcasses.

Were animals killed in the revenant? ›

Conan O'Brien addressed the film in his "Conan" monologue, and mentioned the "pretty intense scenes with animals, particularly bears and horses." He added, "A lot of animal rights groups would normally be concerned about this, but the director went pretty far out of his way to show that no animals were harmed during ...

Why did Glass get inside the horse? ›

Critically injured, Skywalker would likely freeze before he makes it back to the rebel base, were it not for Han Solo riding in on a tauntaun. The creature keels over almost immediately, and the two men pull a Glass and sleep inside to keep them warm and alive for the night.

What did Glass do to his neck in revenant? ›

The bear attack

Glass gets attacked by a massive mama bear: He's torn apart, his neck is slashed, and the bear breaks his leg (and I thought I might faint on Dr. Kass). But apparently it's not out of the question that he could survive such an attack, as the real Glass did.

What kind of bear attacked Hugh Glass? ›

But it was the bear attack that stood out. In a pivotal sequence, the film's hero — fur trapper Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio — is mauled by a grizzly bear. He survives, but his companions soon leave him for dead in the middle of the frigid American west to fend for himself.

How cold was it filming the revenant? ›

Because this condition of director Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu forced a whole film crew to shoot all the scenes in a time window of only two hours per day. In the freezing wilderness at minus 25 degrees. The conditions for the actors and the entire crew could not have been any tougher.

What rifle did Hugh Glass use? ›

“The Revenant book actually specifies a particular maker and style of gun, the gun used by Hugh Glass was a Joseph Angstadt rifle,” said Luckenbill.

Why does he sleep in a horse The Revenant? ›

At one point, DiCaprio's character even crawls inside a horse carcass to keep warm (don't worry, that was a bit of movie magic — the horse was made of latex and no animals were thrown off a cliff in the making of the film).

What The Revenant got wrong? ›

The bear attacked Glass in 1823; the buffalo slaughter would not take place for another 50 years. Another slaughter the movie got wrong was Glass's Pawnee wife being killed. No white army, be it French, Spanish or American, ever slaughtered a Pawnee village.

What do they call the Indians in The Revenant? ›

However, it was the Arikara (a.k.a. the Rees) with whom Glass and his trapping companions seems to have had the most contact with in the weeks preceding his "wrestle" with the grizzly. The film correctly identifies the Indians involved in its events as Arikara (Ree).

How do Revenants heal? ›

Revenants are also capable of healing whenever their health falls below 50%. Although they can constantly heal themselves, their healing ability is limited, and they don't eat as fast as they would normally do. To block a revenant's damage and aggression, a charged bracelet of ethereum must be worn at all times.

Should you throw rocks at a bear? ›

Don't yell or throw rocks. If the bear charges, stop backing away and use your bear spray. If the bear shows no signs of stress and is approaching, make yourself look big and scary by outstretching your arms, holding packs above your head, making loud noises, throwing rocks, and preparing to use your bear spray.

Can a human fight a bear with a knife? ›

Sure can; in fact, the KABAR knife, which is roughly the same size or a little smaller than most bowie knives got its name from a testimonial letter written by a trapper, who killed a bear with the knife.

Can you shoot a bear if it attacks your dog? ›

As mentioned earlier, it is legal to shoot a bear while it is attacking you or your pet dog. But as a responsible dog owner, it is still better to prevent your dog from encountering a bear.

What scent do black bears hate? ›

Bears also dislike the strong scent of pine-based cleaners, but avoid using anything with a fresh, lemony or fruity smell. And never mix bleach and ammonia; the combination produces fumes that can be deadly to both people and bears.

Can a bear rip open a car door? ›

For all car campers, safety in the great outdoors needs to be a number one concern, and bears need to be carefully considered. All North American bear species have been known to not only be able to break into car windows but to be completely capable of tearing open doors and truck lids if they sense food on the inside.

Can a grizzly bear break a bowling ball? ›

Biting Power

Grizzly bears possess a biting force of over 1200 PSI, which is enough to crush a bowling ball.

Should you lie down if a brown bear attacks? ›

Brown/Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area.

How long does it take a bear to bleed out the long dark? ›

Well, if you have shot a bear and it's bleeding, don't spend over 2 hours indoors. You can however spend over 2 hours indoors if you hit it in the head with a rifle or revolver or if you hit in in the head or torso with a survival bow or distress pistol, because in those cases the bear will die in less than 2 hours.

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How accurate is The Revenant bear scene? ›

Other than omitting a futile attempt by Glass to climb a tree and an early on-target gunshot, the grizzly attack depicted in 'The Revenant' largely is accurate.

Why dont they cook meat in The Revenant? ›

“It's very good to eat it raw because the liver contains a lot of blood and blood contains carbohydrates, which will help keep you warm.” The survival expert had mixed feelings about scenes in which DiCaprio catches fish from shallow waters using stones laid out in a horseshoe pattern.

Was a horse killed in The Revenant? ›

The Revenant

Have they also told you that it was a real dead horse? If so, take comfort from the fact that, well, it wasn't. It has since been revealed that 'a set piece' was used in this scene. 'The horse was built and the guts inside were created out of latex and hair,' explains production designer Jack Fisk.

Why does glass look at the camera at the end of The Revenant? ›

Glass does no such thing — his look does not imply awareness that we are watching in a movie theater. Instead, it is a thematic representation of presence. That presence he senses is perhaps something greater — life itself or a higher being.

Did Fitzgerald scalp the captain? ›

Late in the film, Fitzgerald becomes the scalper, as well as the scalped. Having killed one of his pursuers, he unsheathes a knife and takes the man's scalp: his dexterity as a fur trapper now deployed on humans.

How big was the bear in revenant? ›

The 6'4 1/2”, 250-lb. Ennis (whose wife is Lynn Colliar, a Global News B.C. anchor) spoke with Global News about his surreal, gruelling experience filming The Revenant as the bear.

Can bears recognize themselves in the mirror? ›

A captive chimpanzee reportedly sat in front of a mirror in a cage and eventually touched a dot on its forehead, showing that it realized the reflection was of itself. Unlike caged chimps, wild bears see their reflections whenever they drink from quiet ponds; so mirrors don't get much notice.

How cold was it filming The Revenant? ›

Because this condition of director Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu forced a whole film crew to shoot all the scenes in a time window of only two hours per day. In the freezing wilderness at minus 25 degrees. The conditions for the actors and the entire crew could not have been any tougher.

Is Leonardo DiCaprio vegan? ›

While Leonardo DiCaprio is not vegan himself, Cowspiracy and What the Health Co-director Keegan Kuhn told PBN that the actor has ditched beef after watching Cowspiracy in a bid to reduce his carbon footprint.

Can you eat raw buffalo liver? ›

Raw buffalo liver is actually extremely healthy – you'd get complete amino acids and a huge hit of carbohydrates – although it might be slightly harder to come by than traditional cuts and steaks.

Can a horse freeze to death? ›

It doesn't happen very often, but horses can freeze to death. Although horse's bodies are incredible at keeping them warm, hypothermia can happen and when it does, hypothermia for horses is usually fatal.

Has a horse ever killed a person? ›

Roy Kinnear (1934–1988), British character actor, bled to death due to a broken pelvis sustained in a fall from a horse. Christopher Reeve (1952–2004), actor, paralyzed on May 27, 1995 from the neck down following a fall from his horse while riding cross-country in a 3-day event.

What happens to a horse after it dies? ›

All horses, when they die, must be disposed of immediately with very few exceptions and they must be delivered to a premises approved for proper collection and disposal of animal carcasses.

What happened to Hugh Glass at the end of The Revenant? ›

The closing images of the film are of Hugh Glass watching in utter despair as she turns away from his snow-encrusted beard and walks into the distance while he keeps breathing. He keeps breathing even after the credits have begun.

Why does glass burn his neck in The Revenant? ›

Burning his neck

Glass decides to handle the situation by cauterizing the skin on his neck to close up the wound. Apparently, that's not such a bad idea. “Him burning his skin to heal it and scar it makes sense,” says Kass. “We use heat in surgery a lot.

Is glass alive in The Revenant? ›

There is no uplift for Hugh Glass as the fierce cold continues to rot his body and soul. There is only the sound of his breathing. That is because he does not die. Hugh Glass lives on in this perpetually unfair mortal coil while his wife, much like the indigenous people she represents, fades away.

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