Leonardo Dicaprio spends a majority of The Revenant on the verge of death, frothing at the mouth. The movie follows the harrowing journey of frontier pioneer Doug Hall and his quest to exact revenge on his son’s murderer. Throughout the movie, Hall battles various dangers in the American frontier and employs a variety of improvised solutions in order to stay alive and hunt down Tom Hardy’s character, John Fitzgerald.
The film was nominated for Best Picture and Dicaprio has garnered a Best Actor nomination for his depiction of Hugh Glass. As Dicaprio clambers through the mud and claws at the last frayed edges of humanity, the viewer often comes to the question: how realistic are all these tactics of survival?
The Catalyst talked to David Crye, Assistant Director of Outdoor Education, to see which techniques used by Dicaprio would save you in the wilderness, and which parts of the movie were simply an apparition of Hollywood’s imagination.
Crye, who is a WFR-certified wilderness EMT, made sure to stress that at Outdoor Ed he focuses on making sure that students will never have to resort to Hall-esque tactics on their wilderness adventures.
Plausibility scale: 9/10
For Crye, the scene of Hall being ripped apart by a grizzly bear comes across as rather life-like. Hall is out hunting near his camp in the evening and finds himself between a mother bear and her cubs, a big no-no. This element of the scene is one that checks out with Crye.
Also, the fact that the grizzly bear is aggressive in general lines up with how grizzly bears act in the wild. While Hall is being ripped apart by the bear, he manages to get a hold of his musket and blasts the slobbering beast in the face with some buckshot. The bear is largely unharmed and is only made more upset by the musket.
Once again, this seems plausible to Crye. “Bear spray can actually make bears more upset sometimes, so that does make sense,” said Crye.
Eating raw buffalo and fish meat
Plausibility scale: 6/10
As Hall slips in and out of consciousness in the movie, he often stumbles across a meal of some kind. Twice in the movie, that meal includes uncooked meat. Crye said, “it’s always better to cook things because you’re going to kill all the bacteria that way.” So maybe there is a bit of a plot hole there, but this technique is by no means implausible.
In one scene, Hall traps a fish and eats the meat raw. Eating raw fish is acceptable sometimes, said Crye, but a larger concern was the eating of buffalo meat. Hall is ravenous when he comes across a man that has a buffalo cut open and is eating the meat raw. Hall joins in. For Crye, the biggest concern here is how the buffalo died and how long it has been dead. Hall’s bloody meals may sustain him in the movie, but they certainly do not come without their health risks of foodborne illness.
Cauterizing neck wound with use of gunpowder
Plausibility scale: 4/10
In one particularly memorable scene, Hall cauterizes an open wound on his neck with the aid of gunpowder. He sprinkles gunpowder on his open wound and then touches a match to the area. Following a fizzle and a pop, Hall lets out his signature groan and lays down in relief.
Crye said, “I think that’s pretty crazy, pretty drastic.” He did admit however, that from a very simplistic point of view, the general concept of cauterizing a wound is sound medical practice. However, Crye continued, “from a medical standpoint, I don’t think that’s the most safe, sanitary option.” Questions that Crye pointed out included how much gunpowder to use and how to safely deliver gunpowder to the area. He concluded, “I don’t think I would ever try it.”
Sleeping inside of a horse carcass
Plausibility scale: 8/10
Hall finds himself at the base of a cliff next to his dead horse after an enthralling chase scene towards the conclusion of the movie. His horse lays dead next to him after a 50-foot dive over the cliffs edge. Hall is weakened and cold after the fall and he decides to slice open his steed and remove its innards.
After completely disemboweling the horse, he strips naked and climbs inside. The scene garners a hushed groan from the audience, but may actually hold water in a real-world situation according to Crye. “Sure, it’s kind of gross and disgusting, but that’s going to keep you warm for a while,” said Crye. “The skin of the horse and its body heat act as an insulator and provide heat for Hall. There are other things you could make, like an igloo or snow hut, but if you’re not warm enough it’s going to be hard to warm yourself up in one of those.” The clincher for the horse carcass is that it insulates while also warming up Hall’s naked body.