It’s the 1820s, and fur trapper Hugh Glass is left in a grave by two of his fellow hunters after a brutal bear attack. He must survive severe weather, harsh country, vicious animal wounds and attacks from the locals, if he is going to surprise everyone and make it back from the dead. Here he is fleeing one of the local tribes, none too happy about him pinching their furs.
This movie is not exactly a big screen version of, ‘We’re going on a bear hunt…’ Though hunting and bears do feature. The word revenant means ‘One who comes back as if from the dead’ which puts me in mind of someone else who not only came back from the grave, but brought others back too. Jesus was a major funeral-spoiler, bringing Jairus’s 12 year old daughter, his best friend Lazarus, and an unnamed young man from Nain all back from the dead. He talked of bringing life in its fullest expression, and this was very much a part of it.
At Easter we remember his own conquering of death, he didn’t battle enemies and the elements in the way that Hugh Glass does in this film, but the journey was no less epic, and we can barely imagine what struggles Jesus faced as he hung on a Roman cross and absorbed the evil of the ages. Totally isolated, even from God.
At one moment in the film Hugh’s wife says, ‘As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing. When there is a storm and you stand in front of a tree, if you look at its branches, you swear it will fall. But if you watch the trunk, you will see its stability.’ In Psalm 1 the followers of God are likened to trees with roots that go deep and draw on the nearby river. We may not always feel that way. We may not see ourselves as solid plantings. Those frontiersmen who battled to survive in deep snow, grime and blood were clearly made of stern stuff. I doubt if I’d have survived that life. We may often feel more like the branches that are torn and battered in life’s storms. But, using a slightly different metaphor, Jesus encourages us to cling to him as the vine, to become branches that are locked into him, fruitful and part of his being. Branches that certainly will get knocked about by life, but are grafted into something solid and life-giving – whether we see ourselves as grizzled pioneers, or something else entirely. This has been the story of the ages. So many people, some tough, some less so, discovering the presence of Jesus, and hanging on to him. For hope, purpose, forgiveness and a fresh start. And sometimes for dear life.