The Power of The Revenant

Movie theaters are now flooded with a new mountain man story.

Well, not a new story per se, as the story of Hugh Glass is certainly not new, and the 1971 film Man in the Wilderness has taken this subject on before.  From what I have read in Muzzleloader and Backwoodsman, Brother Clay Landry has done an incredible job making sure the technical details are on the right path for this film.   However, we all know that some things will be “left on the cutting room floor” in the interest of cinematic storytelling.   The movie looks great, the filmmaker interested in authenticity, the vistas will be amazing, and it will probably be a really cool film.

And for a lot of us – myself included – I am excited to see a movie about mountain men, almost regardless of the treatment.   Just to be able to go into a darkened movie theater and watch some of our favorite subject matter unfold on the screen is a rare treat indeed.   Being able to watch a flintlock gun battle, or watching people loading from shot pouch and horn, makes it all worthwhile.

Over 40 years ago, Jeremiah Johnson came out, and for years after, become sort of the “unofficial” film of our hobby.   It gave us references to “Hawken rifles,” “watching your top knot,” and other staples of rendezvous culture.   But more than that, it became accessible way for us to explain to others what we do in our spare time.

In the way of Jeremiah Johnson, maybe authenticity wasn’t that important, because it wasn’t really expected in that time.  The technical advisor for the film – if that was even the word that was used then – was a man named Larry Dean Olsen, a survival instructor and expert in Indian survival skills.  More or less the Bear Grylls or Les Stroud of his time, if not the progenitor of the type.   His specific focus for the film would have been in how Jeremiah Johnson survived and lived off the land.   There was probably less interest in the accuracy of the accouterments and weaponry, as can be seen in the use of the CVA Mountain Pistols, plains-style Hawken rifles, and the like.

(But, to be fair to Hawken rifles, the film actually takes place after the heyday of the Rocky Mountain Fur trade – as seen by Bear Claw mention beaver being “trapped out” and a few brief references to Johnson having served in the Mexican-American War).

Having said all that, Jeremiah Johnson became a legend in its own time, simply because it was the most available version of the Mountain Man story.   It was something we could slip into the VCR (and later the DVD player) and get inspired.   And in that, always made it worthwhile, even if not 100% accurate . . . .

So where does that leave us today?   What is the power of the Revenant?

For us old hands that have been at this hobby for a while, I am sure we’ll find a few elements of dubious historical accuracy.  Brother Clay’s work notwithstanding, a lot of what’s done in the movie is done at the filmmaker’s behest to get a certain idea, theme or scene across – not be historical accurate.  The film also utilized natural light – a method that required many scenes to be filmed far, far away from the Rocky Mountains.

I would put forward that the power of the Revenant is in two things.   Foremost, the power of this movie will be in inspiring a lot of conversations around the campfire with old friends discussing how things were portrayed, how things would have been done, which item was used or not used.   That is a great thing and there is a lot of fun in that.

But for us, the real power of the Revenant may be to inspire a new generation of people who might have never been exposed to mountain man culture, or who have never fired a flintlock rifle or smoothbore.  They will have a new interest or curiosity kindled inside them that will lead them to seek us out and learn more.

These folks may end up becoming the future of the AMM and the future of our hobby!

So for good or bad, whether historically accurate or not, any time our favorite time period and historical interest is put on the big screen, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for us all.   And that is the real power of the Revenant.

Watch yer top knot!

–  “Many Rifles”

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