Released in 2015 to critical acclaim, The Revenant, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, is an epic survival drama set in the wilds of present-day America and Canada, during the early years of the 19th century.
Centred around real life experienced fur trapper and frontiersman Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), as he leads Captain Andrew Henry’s (Domhnall Gleeson) through the modern day Dakotas to transport furs.
Beginning with an ambush by the native Arikara tribe, who are searching for the chief’s daughter, the crew lose a large portion of their cargo, as well as a sizable number of crew members.
Following disputes amongst the remaining crew, they leave the danger of the river and journey in land, and the near-fatal mauling of Glass by a large grizzly bear, they make the tough choice to leave him behind, under the watch of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass’ half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), and young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter).
When the deceptive Fitzgerald kills Hawk, half-buries Glass alive in a shallow grave, and convinces the naive Bridger that they should leave for safety, the determined, grieving Glass frees himself, patches his wounds, and vengefully pursues Fitzgerald across some of the harshest landscapes in the world.
Culminating in the exhausted Glass scalping a cornered Fitzgerald, before leaving him to the mercy of the Arikara, the film boasts some of the most beautiful locations in the western hemisphere, including North America, Canada, and Argentina.
Hugh Glass’ story of survival and forgiveness was immortalised in 1825, when it was published anonymously as a literary piece by The PortFolio, a Philadelphia literary journal.
Very little evidence exists surrounding the truth of the story, and Glass himself never wrote about, nor corroborated the events depicted in the story, leading historians to doubt the veracity of the tale.
Despite this, the story has become a thing of legend, probably embellished over time by people like Jim Bridger, a frontiersman and western legend, who himself accompanied Glass as a boy.
After principal photography was completed by October 2014, and with Inarritu’s intention of using natural light to shoot the movie, filming began in February 2015, with a proposed deadline of April or May, which eventually was postponed until August 2015, when production wrapped.
The principal location for much of the film was in and around Alberta, Canada, particularly the first portion of the film, wherein the crew gets attacked by the Arikara, as well as other forest scenes.
Filming was done in the secluded Bow Valley, named as such for the reeds along the river, used by the First Nations peoples to create bows.
The Blackfoot people called the area Makhabn, which means “river where bow weeds grow”, and the area is a ripe, culturally diverse region, containing lakes, forests, and parks.
DiCaprio himself stated the difficulties during the filming process, stating that they were some of the hardest of his career, and indeed his life.
With temperatures in the region dropping below -30 C, it is not hard to see why, especially with the repeated plunges into freezing waters, and long rigorous shooting schedules to make the most of the natural light.
Filming also took place in the badlands of Drumheller (also known as Dinosaur Valley), and at the Fortress Mountain Resort, close to the Kananaskis Trail in Kananaskis county.
British Columbia, Canada
The dense woodland of British Columbia also played an important role in the film, acting as the location of Glass’ grizzly bear attack.
Mammoth studios in Burnaby, British Columbia, also acted as location for much of the filming of these scenes.
Other titles filmed at this location also include The Man of Steel (starring Henry Cavill as Superman), and The Christmas Chronicles 2, starring Kurt Russell as Santa Claus, and Goldie Hawn as Mrs Claus.
Kootenai Falls, Montana
Whilst most was filmed in Canada, some of the film was shot in America, for example during a later scene where a lone Glass is fleeing from the Arikara down water rapids and waterfalls, where Inarritu used Kootenai Falls, near Libby Montana for much of the scene.
Kootenai Falls, Montana, was named for the Kootenai tribe (one of the five federally registered tribes in Idaho), for which the falls were a sacred site.
Located in the Kootenai reservation, which was first established in 1896, and then again in 1974, it consists of a 2,695 acre landmass that has become a popular tourist location for its role as location in movies, its natural beauty, and for its swinging bridge, which began as a fire-fighting aid in the 1930s, but which developed into a tourist attraction decades later.
Rio Olivia, Argentina
Despite the film’s Canadian border setting, delays to the filming schedule, and the time of year they were filming meant that Canada was too warm and devoid of snow for much of production, meaning that other plans needed to be made for the ending scenes of the film (which see winter approach).
This involved relocating to Rio Olivia at the southernmost tip of Argentina, where there was still snow on the ground, and could be convincingly viewed as isolated, rural South Dakota.
Located in the Carbajal Valley, the area is part of the Fuegian Andes of southern Tierra Del Fuego (land of fire) province, Argentina.
Approximately 12 miles long, running east to west, it features the Alvear mountain range to the north, and the Vinciguerra mountain range to the south.
And there we have it, a run down of the filming locations in The Revenant.
Depicting the savage beauty of frontier life, and despite the questionable truth of the film’s story, or indeed Glass’ own experiences, the film can be enjoyed as an ode to American, Argentinian, and Canadian geography, a shining example of visual storytelling, and a source of inspiration for travellers everywhere.
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