In Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s The Revenant, a number of cinematographic techniques – some more diverse than others – allow for a creative expression of emotion, mood and place. Through the initiative of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, particular scenes implemented mise-en-scene and film techniques in order to immerse the viewer in the occasion. Here are just some of the ways mood and tension is explored in the film’s opening scene.
The film’s opening scene, for example, is an outrageous massacre at a campsite and follows Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) as he attempts to survive. Much of this scene is shot with a wide lens, but is also considerably longer than most shots in a typical movie. Lubezki admitted on multiple occasions that this is done in order to make the movie “as naturalistic and immersive as possible.” (Baskin, Sanyal. 2016.)
In the opening of this scene, the naked man falls in the open forest, which provides a contrast to the dense setting of the trees on the left. This helps draw our attention to the drama set to unfold.
As the scene progresses this contrast continues as Glass’ men continue to be brutally murdered. While the majority of the men on screen stay in the tall, dark cover of the trees, the trapper out in the field is in clear light and therefore susceptible to danger, much like in the earlier picture. It is an interesting duality, given that light is normally associated with safety.
The use of natural lighting throughout the film, something that Lubezki also incorporated to enhance the visceral and immersive nature of the project, plays into these scenes. The soft lighting of the sunset creates an inviting glow, which adds to the surprise of the ambush itself and heightens tension as a result.
As the long shot of the scene continues and we focus again on Glass, it is interesting to note the shot size and depth of field – DiCaprio is our main focus, but the depth of field is quite large, meaning that we are still able to take notice of the vast landscape around us. With the focus of our attention also off-center, as well as the use of long, sweeping shots of the forest, we are able to pay more attention to the war taking place in the background and therefore the sense of space is thrown into perspective.
While much of the scene is shot to appear as one continuous scene, the use of what appears to be a camera rig, as well as clever editing, allows for smoother pans, but also maintains an unstable movement, making the shot feel tense and heightening the action in frame.
Baskin, D. and Sanyal, R. (2016.) Emmanuel Lubezki: ‘Digital gave me something I could never have done on film’. https://www.dpreview.com/interviews/4663212665/interview-with-three-time-oscar-winning-cinematographer-emmanuel-lubezki