The Revenant Ending and Real History Explained (2022)

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The Revenant Ending and Real History Explained (1)By David Crow | |

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The Revenant Ending and Real History Explained (2)

This article contains The Revenant spoilers.

In the last two years, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu has delivered a pair of visionary films that’ve made a grizzly bear-sized impact on the cinematic conversation. 2014’s Birdman was an ode to pretension, ambition, and all those other wonderful virtues that drive artists mad. Nimble and talky with its theatrical levity, Birdman is quite clearly the inverse of The Revenant, a stoic and often wordless musing on man’s primal urges—including revenge—when cast against a primordial and uncaring world. Ostensibly an intimate story of suffering, The Revenant takes on a biblical scope when Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy are doing battle in the backdrop of a budding avalanche.

However, there is more in common with these two movies than merely their ability to play as awards voter catnip (Birdman nearly swept the Oscars and if the Golden Globes of 2016 are any indication, The Revenant might repeat the trend). In fact, one of the most striking similarities is their preference for ambiguity and open-ended finality.

(Video) Hugh Glass | 'The Revenant' Protagonist Was Even More Badass In Real Life

Buy The Revenant: A Story of Revenge by Michael Punke on Amazon.

After seeing The Revenant twice now in the last two months—and with two different sets of people—I can confirm that there have been wildly different interpretations about the closing scene and just what Hugh Glass’ final audible breaths mean for both the character and his place in history.

But I suspect the whole meaning of the nigh three-hour film’s conclusion is explained right at the start of the picture.

The Revenant Ending and Real History Explained (3)

As Long as You Can Still Grab Breath

The very first lines of dialogue in The Revenant are spoken by Leonardo DiCaprio with a Pawnee affection, yet their meaning remains crystal clear. “It’s okay son, I know you want this to be over. I’m right here. I will be right here. But you don’t give up. You hear me? As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.”

These early words spoken by Hugh Glass to Hawk, his half-Pawnee son, are crucial to understanding the movie. In the immediacy, it introduces the theme of the story, as well as Glass’ love for a son whose mother was taken away by other white men. But it, more than any desire for revenge, is the true driving force for Glass’ stunning survival instinct.

And it comes just as much into play at the end of the film after Hugh Glass has hunted down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and cornered him by a slushy creek. The most iconic scene in The Revenant, which is destined to become a classic moment of big screen brutality, is of course when the grizzly bear mauls Hugh Glass half to death in an agonizing steadicam shot that goes on for several minutes (plus an eternity). Yet, the final knockdown, drag out brawl between Glass and Fitzgerald is just as merciless.

Bones are smashed, fingers cut off, and hands impaled. By all accounts, both men appear mortally wounded, albeit Fitzgerald more so. Hence why he can barely protest when Glass sends his broken body down river like it’s a raft borne of flesh and leaking blood. Glass does this because he seems to have taken to heart the advice of his Pawnee savior from the midway point of the film. He is on course to suffer the fate of all tragic revengers if he personally takes Fitzgerald’s life.

… Plus it’s kind of a vicious boon that Fitzgerald despises Native Americans more than anything else. While Fitzgerald could keep a brave face and proudly mock Glass to his dying breath, the idea of the “savages” that took his scalp would now finish the job is akin to feeding an arachnophobe to a den of black widows.

Yet, it’s after this moment that the ambiguity settles in. Just as Fitzgerald said before he died, “Well you enjoy it Glass, because there ain’t anything that’ll bring your boy back.” And indeed, with his revenge complete, Glass appears frightfully wounded and far from the safety of a fort. Thus there appears nothing left to him when the ghostly visage of his dead wife appears, apparently beckoning him toward the eternal.

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.

The Revenant Ending and Real History Explained (4)

Admittedly, one interpretation of this ending, which is entirely valid, is that Glass follows his long lost love to find peace with her and their murdered son, Hawk. The idea of an avenger finding peace in death after his revenge is complete remains a familiar and comforting ending every bit as satisfying as the often grimmer alternative of self- annihilation. Maximus was relieved to find his wife and son waiting for him on the fields of Elysium, and Mel Gibson’s version of William Wallace greeted Catherine McCormack’s Murron almost as readily as Gibson jumps at scenes of glorified torture.

However, I do not think Iñárritu is going for something nearly as reassuring or appeasing as that sort of bittersweet closer. 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. The wilderness he has soiled with his and Fitzgerald’s blood, and their petty human concerns, will also one day fade away because of Glass’ people—but Glass and his kind keep breathing.

He is a survivalist at heart, and he did not survive grizzly bears, frozen river rapids, French gunfire, and an odyssey of snow only to give up because his revenge is quenched.

(Video) The Revenant |Full Movie Recap | Plot Breakdown | Serious Spoilers | Explained

Rather, Glass will keep breathing even after the credits end, even if it means he is utterly alone. He still has fight and for better or worse it’s left him as the last man standing in a storyline ultimately filled with ghosts.

(Video) 'The Revenant' Ending Explained: Did Hugh Glass Survive After The Fight With Fitzgerald?

The Revenant Ending and Real History Explained (5)

What About the Real Hugh Glass?

Then again, perhaps studying the real Hugh Glass might give audiences some clues about what the ending meant for this character…. Or not.

If one gives even a cursory glance into the real life events that inspired The Revenant, the word “inspired” quickly proves key. While there was a Hugh Glass who was mauled by a grizzly bear during Gen. William Henry Ashley’s expedition of 1823 in the Dakota Territory, the details almost immediately begin to blur. For starters, instead of the frightful cold pictured in Iñárritu’s film, the attack occurredduring the summer of 1823 in August. Secondly, other details are muddied, such as Thomas Fitzgerald (not John) and Jim Bridger being Glass’ pallbearers.

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Indeed, there is plenty of academic skepticism of whether the young lad who was said to have joined Fitzgerald in leaving Glass for dead was even Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), a famous mountain man in his own right. The only primary accounts of Glass’ mauling from 1823—which did indeed come after Andrew Henry’s party was attacked by Arikara (or “Ree”) Indians—belonged to James Clyman and Daniel Potts. Clyman recorded that Glass “went off of the line of march one afternoon and met with a large grissly Bear… he attempted to climb a tree but the bear caught him and hauled to the ground tearing and lacerating his body in fearful rate.”

Potts meanwhile stated, “One man was also tore nearly all to peases by a White Bear and was left by the way without any gun who afterwards recovr’d.”

While Glass most certainly did nurse himself back to health and crawled his way over some 200 miles to Fort Kiowa, it wasn’t until 1825 that the first newspaper account added the detail that not only was he left in the wilderness after the mauling, but that also two men had volunteered to wait behind and bury him, and then didn’t (Thomas Fitzgerald and an unnamed youth, as according to Philip St. Cooke’s 1830 account).

Whatever the case might be, no version of this story prior to this film includes the poetic horror of a murdered son. While Glass was certainly left for dead and unarmed after the grizzly mauling, and likely by two compatriots who lied about his passing, the creation of Hawk (Glass’ half-Pawnee son played by Forrest Goodluck in the film) was wholly invented for The Revenant. But it sure makes revenge more necessary, doesn’t it?

The Revenant Ending and Real History Explained (6)

According to the most widely accepted version of events, Glass finished nursing himself back to health at Fort Kiowa (which he reached in part with the help of the Sioux). He then hunted Jim Bridger and Thomas Fitzgerald down to Fort Henry but only found a young Bridger there, who begged Glass’ forgiveness. Given that Bridger would have only been 19-years-old then, and that Glass blamed Fitzgerald for pressuring the young lad into abandoning him, Glass forgave Bridger. He then spent months returned to Henry’s company before following Fitzgerald to Fort Atkinson the following summer (in modern day Nebraska).

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He had planned to kill Fitzgerald, but upon finding his prey had enlisted into the U.S. Army, he realized that murdering Fitzgerald would be a crime punishable by death. Ergo, he let Fitzgerald live and only demanded that the man return his Hawken rifle to him.

Glass did in fact die from a battle though… 10 years later in 1833 when he was employed as a hunter for Fort Union and was killed during a skirmish with Arikara Indians. Gen. William Henry Ashley—whom Domhnall Gleeson’s Capt. Henry is also partially based on—meanwhile, did not die in a frozen tundra during a shootout with a man named Fitzgerald (nor did the real Andrew Henry). In fact, he went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for the state of Missouri for five years before a failed bid for the state’s governorship. He died of pneumonia in 1836.

Ultimately, The Revenant takes very little from actual history and should be viewed on its own terms: an Alejandro G. Iñárritu fever dream about clashing cultures and a cruelly beautiful natural world displaced by our own prejudices. It’s a vision so strong that it even keeps breathing after the final frame.

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FAQs

What is the meaning of the ending of The Revenant? ›

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 historically accurate is The Revenant? ›

The Revenant is based on a true story

That being said, early accounts of his life are unreliable and often fictitious. The Revenant is based on Michael Punke's 2002 novel of the same name, which was inspired by early 20th century poems that were lifted from the three earliest written accounts of Glass's adventures.

Does Hugh Glass survive at the end of 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.

What happened to Glass's wife in The Revenant? ›

The Revenant movie suggests a military force attacked and destroyed the Pawnee village of his wife. In the attack, Glass' wife is killed and he might have killed an officer who was “trying to kill my son”.

Was the bear real in revenant? ›

Not surprisingly, the scene didn't actually involve a real bear. But it did require a lot of CGI, of course, and a man pretending to be a bear. In fact, one of the movie's stuntmen, Glenn Ennis, told Global News, “There was no bear ever on set.

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 the pile of skulls mean in The Revenant? ›

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.

What happened to Powaqa in The Revenant? ›

At the end of The Revenant, Powaqa returns. This is a detail I overlooked during my episode of PTSD, when I first watched the film. She appears on horseback, reunited finally with her father and her tribe. She sits tall and regal, looking down at the bloodied Hugh Glass, and rides on, to safety, to surviving.

Was Hugh Glass a real person? ›

Hugh Glass, (born c. 1783—died c. 1833), American frontiersman and fur trapper who became a folk hero after surviving a bear attack and then traveling hundreds of miles alone to safety. Little is known of Glass's life before 1823, when he signed up for a fur-trading expedition backed by William Henry Ashley.

Did Fitzgerald scalp the captain? ›

The two set off to find Fitzgerald, but sadly, Fitzgerald finds and kills the captain while Glass is at a distance. As Captain Henry's body is revealed, it becomes known that his scalp is missing, meaning that Fitzgerald committed the same atrocity that he himself had once experienced.

Will there be a revenant 2? ›

'The Revenant' sequel is out now... and it's directed by Quavo - The Gateway.

What happened to Hikuc in The Revenant? ›

Hikuc - Hanged off-screen by French hunters. Toussaint - Bleed to death after his genitals was removed by Powaqa for raping her. Two French hunters - Shot by Hugh Glass.

Was the Avalanche in The Revenant real? ›

While other filmmakers might leave an avalanche to digital artists in post-production, Iñárritu decided to make his own. He arranged to have planes drop explosives on Fortress Mountain in Alberta, Canada, to set off a real avalanche where they were filming.

Are revenants REAL? ›

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.

How did they do bear scene in revenant? ›

The bear in the mauling scene was not present on screen, but was the result of expert CGI provided by Industrial Light and Magic. A scene later in the film, however, wherein Hugh Glass had to cut open and climb inside a bear carcass for warmth ... that was stirringly real.

What did Leonardo DiCaprio eat 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.

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.

How much did DiCaprio make for revenant? ›

A big payday

Between June 2014 and June 2015, he earned $29 million, primarily because of his role in The Revenant in addition to movie residuals and product endorsements, reports Forbes. In 2015, DiCaprio was the highest-paid male Oscar nominee.

What happened to Fitzgerald's head in The Revenant? ›

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.

What do they call the Indians in The Revenant? ›

In 1823, Glass met Old Ephraim, in an encounter that made him one of the most famous of mountain men. He had already had a rough trip, having been shot in a battle with the Arikara tribe—called “Rees,” as those who have seen the movie may remember—on the shores of the Missouri River.

Who is the hanging man in The Revenant? ›

Navajo actor Arthur RedCloud, who portrayed 'Hikuc,' the Pawnee man who helps the main character in The Revenant, , never expected to get such an important role. RedCloud says working with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and other actors such as Tom Hardy was a “favor from the Creator.”

Were any horses hurt 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 ...

What does a bison skull represent? ›

It symbolizes abundance, provision, strength, stability, and prosperity. The buffalo's skull was used for sacred rituals as mediums for prayers to Wakan Tanka or “The Divine” in the Lakota way of life.

How long did they shoot The Revenant? ›

However, DiCaprio noted that the filming was incredibly challenging. They shot for about nine months within the brutal elements on location, and a few scenes dealing with extreme cold and "going in and out of frozen rivers" were some of the hardest things DiCaprio has ever had to endure (via Yahoo).

Do they find Powaqa? ›

Soon thereafter, Glass finds his preserver hanged by a band of French trappers—and finds Powaqa their captive and sex slave, and rescues her.

Where did The Revenant take place in real life? ›

Sponsored Content. An epic tale of survival and revenge, the early 2016 film The Revenant tells the story of frontiersman Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). Glass was a trapper in South Dakota, where he was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his companions.

Where did they shoot The Revenant? ›

The majority of “The Revenant” was filmed in Canada. According to Looper, quite a few scenes were filmed in an area of the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, Alberta, in Kananaskis Country and in the Bow Valley over the course of the 11-month shooting schedule.

How did Glass survive? ›

Hugh Glass ( c. 1783 – 1833) was an American frontiersman, fur trapper, trader, hunter and explorer. He is best known for his story of survival and forgiveness after being left for dead by companions when he was mauled by a grizzly bear.
...
Hugh Glass
SpouseUnknown
7 more rows

How long did it take glass to get back to camp? ›

Hugh Glass spent six weeks trekking over 200 miles back to his camp after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his trapping party. Then, he began his revenge. Wikimedia CommonsHugh Glass escaping a grizzly bear.

What rifle was used in The Revenant? ›

A flintlock rifle built by Ron Luckenbill of Recreating History in Rich Valley was used by Leonardo DiCaprio during filming of “The Revenant,” which recounts the tale of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass in the year 1823.

Can you recover from being scalped? ›

There is substantial archaeological evidence of scalping in North America in the pre-Columbian era. Carbon dating of skulls show evidence of scalping as early as 600 AD; some skulls show evidence of healing from scalping injuries, suggesting at least some victims occasionally survived at least several months.

What revenant means? ›

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.

Why is The Revenant called The Revenant? ›

Twentieth Century Fox tried to help in one of its promotional images by explaining that the word “revenant,” as in “The Revenant” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is a noun, meaning, “one who has returned, as if from the dead.” It's from the French, revenir, to return.

What year is revenant set in? ›

Iñárritu. The screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu is based in part on Michael Punke's 2002 novel The Revenant, which describes frontiersman Hugh Glass's experiences in 1823, and which is based on the 1915 poem The Song of Hugh Glass. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.

How does glass heal in The Revenant? ›

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.

Will there be a revenant 2? ›

'The Revenant' sequel is out now... and it's directed by Quavo - The Gateway.

Did Fitzgerald scalp the captain? ›

The two set off to find Fitzgerald, but sadly, Fitzgerald finds and kills the captain while Glass is at a distance. As Captain Henry's body is revealed, it becomes known that his scalp is missing, meaning that Fitzgerald committed the same atrocity that he himself had once experienced.

What really happened to Hugh Glass? ›

About 1833 Hugh Glass was on an expedition near Fort Cass in present-day Treasure county, Montana, when he was killed in a confrontation with Indians.

What happened to Powaqa in The Revenant? ›

At the end of The Revenant, Powaqa returns. This is a detail I overlooked during my episode of PTSD, when I first watched the film. She appears on horseback, reunited finally with her father and her tribe. She sits tall and regal, looking down at the bloodied Hugh Glass, and rides on, to safety, to surviving.

Was the Avalanche in The Revenant real? ›

While other filmmakers might leave an avalanche to digital artists in post-production, Iñárritu decided to make his own. He arranged to have planes drop explosives on Fortress Mountain in Alberta, Canada, to set off a real avalanche where they were filming.

How did they do the bear scene in The Revenant? ›

The bear in the mauling scene was not present on screen, but was the result of expert CGI provided by Industrial Light and Magic. A scene later in the film, however, wherein Hugh Glass had to cut open and climb inside a bear carcass for warmth ... that was stirringly real.

Where did The Revenant take place in real life? ›

Sponsored Content. An epic tale of survival and revenge, the early 2016 film The Revenant tells the story of frontiersman Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). Glass was a trapper in South Dakota, where he was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his companions.

Can you recover from being scalped? ›

There is substantial archaeological evidence of scalping in North America in the pre-Columbian era. Carbon dating of skulls show evidence of scalping as early as 600 AD; some skulls show evidence of healing from scalping injuries, suggesting at least some victims occasionally survived at least several months.

What happened to Hikuc in The Revenant? ›

Hikuc - Hanged off-screen by French hunters. Toussaint - Bleed to death after his genitals was removed by Powaqa for raping her. Two French hunters - Shot by Hugh Glass.

Who was the villain in The Revenant? ›

Jonathan "John" Fitzgerald (or also known by his surname Fitzgerald for short) is the main antagonist of the 2015 survival drama movie The Revenant, based on the true events.

How did Glass survive? ›

Hugh Glass ( c. 1783 – 1833) was an American frontiersman, fur trapper, trader, hunter and explorer. He is best known for his story of survival and forgiveness after being left for dead by companions when he was mauled by a grizzly bear.
...
Hugh Glass
SpouseUnknown
7 more rows

How long did it take Glass to get back to camp? ›

Hugh Glass spent six weeks trekking over 200 miles back to his camp after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his trapping party. Then, he began his revenge. Wikimedia CommonsHugh Glass escaping a grizzly bear.

What happened to Mark Jordan and Jacqueline Perry? ›

Police and wildlife officials were on the hunt for the wounded bear Wednesday and campers have been ordered out of the back country of Missinaibi Lake Provincial Park. Jacqueline Perry and Mark Jordan, both 30, were attacked at a campsite in the provincial park about 80 kilometres north of Chapleau.

What happened to Fitzgerald's head in The Revenant? ›

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.

Do they find Powaqa? ›

Soon thereafter, Glass finds his preserver hanged by a band of French trappers—and finds Powaqa their captive and sex slave, and rescues her.

What kind of bear was in revenant? ›

Refer to it in those words, and most movie fans will know that you're referring to the six-minute sequence in "The Revenant" in which DiCaprio's frontiersman character -- inspired by the real 1826 experiences of the legendary Hugh Glass -- is mauled by a grizzly bear before being left for dead by his companions.

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