Revenant Writer Explains Script Changes

Alejandro Inarritu’s “The Revenant” has been getting raves for almost every aspect of its production – its visuals, perfomances, score, design, etc. Yet it’s not quite in the upper echelon of the best films of the year according to the review aggregators – mostly due to the script.

Put simply, the revenge tale that fuels the film has divided some critics – some adore it, others aren’t so pleased. The film’s co-writer Mark L. Smith spoke with Slashfilm recently and explained some differences between his early drafts and how things changed when Inarritu came onboard.

It seems not just character motivations were adjusted, some other elements such as the rifle of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), were more important in the initial take. In the final film the son of Glass provides much of the motivation for the hero who also goes on more of a spiritual journey:

In my earlier drafts before Alejandro came on, my father-son stuff was different. My story was that the son had died previous to the journey, that he had been sick while he was young. You open with these scenes of Glass and son, carving a star in a hunting rifle – the stock of a hunting rifle. While they’re carving the star, the son is coughing and you know he’s dying. The son pricks his finger and blood falls into the star on the rifle, and then you flash forward and we’re right where we are with the attack. Glass is still holding the rifle, but it’s very worn and you can still see the star on the stock of the rifle.

When Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) leave him, in my earlier drafts, Fitzgerald took the rifle. All Glass wanted to do was hold his rifle, so he’s gripping his rifle, because it means so much to him. Glass’ journey was less about revenge, more about getting his rifle back – which is almost like his son. It was almost a kidnapping story at that point. I didn’t like the revenge thing, so I didn’t go that route.

Then Alejandro came in and added the son, because he thought it could be really powerful, and the idea because of he’s half-Native American the racism angle could come in and you could show the cultures and how they blended together. We both felt revenge was empty – a goal without a reward. It’s hard to celebrate, because the character is lost. Revenge is the spark that gets him going, but it’s a spiritual journey.

“The Revenant” opens in cinemas on Christmas Day.