According to Carole Cadwalladr in The Guardian, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s soaring, exhilarating revenge epic The Revenant is empty, meaningless and – furthermore – somehow complicit in the video recordings of torture and murder released by fundamentalist terror groups.
In a deliberately provocative but rather silly article that has scooped up a hugely impressive number of comments and shares, Cadwalladr suggests that the brutality depicted in The Revenant tells us significant things about our society’s relationship with violence. Unfortunately, she can’t quite figure out what those things actually are. Sprinkled throughout her opinion-piece, however, are references to the ongoing clusterfuck that is the West’s relationship with fundamentalist Islam, specifically with Islamic State.
She has two points to make. This is the first:
‘So the landscape is chilling and the violence is pointless and the whole thing is meaningless. A vacuous revenge tale that is simply pain as spectacle. The Revenant is pain porn.’
Which is fine. Small-minded, but fine. She’s entitled to her opinion, incorrect and wholly vacuous though it is. One explanation for this terrifically superficial reading is that the film has gone way over her head. She simply lacks the intellectual capacity to grasp its themes – the potency but ultimate futility of revenge, the subordination of man to his environment, the perils of greed, the towering beauty of the natural world – or else, of course, she’s just trolling.
There’s a lot of trolling in professional journalism these days. Witness virtuoso troll and spiteful misanthrope Giles Coren and his piece on David Bowie this week, which I’m not going to link to. In the resulting fall-out from his loathsome Bowie bit, Coren freely, shamelessly admitted that the excrement he trots out weekly often bears no relation to his actual beliefs and is just something he does for cash. Like Jeremy Clarkson. He tweeted on Saturday: ‘I positively need people to disagree [with the bullshit I write but don’t even believe] to get the traction that feeds the clicks that gets the advertising that pays me.’
Similarly, it seems, Carole Cadwalladr’s piece in The Guardian, with its deliberately gratuitous and inflammatory comparisons of The Revenant to videos released by Islamic State, is meaningless contrarian clickbait.
Or else she really is thick. Which is still a possibility, and brings us to her second point. In something of a mad confused leap, Cadwalladr suggests that Isis record themselves murdering and torturing perceived enemies because they have been inspired to do so by Hollywood. Or in other words, terrorism videos are the epitome of copycat violence.
Her evidence for this is that ‘…all of Isis’s video output is inspired by our own entertainments – in its subject matter, its soundtrack, its editing.’ By which she appears to mean, they use film. ‘Islamic State hasn’t invented new narrative tropes, it’s simply lifted them straight from Hollywood. All it’s done is to go one step further, trumped Hollywood at its own game. It has seen what we want, what we thrill to, and given it to us.’
Then, in a predominantly senseless paragraph that reads like she simply couldn’t be bothered to finish it, she writes:
‘The Revenant isn’t responsible for this. It’s simply the kind of tedious, emotionally vacant film that has certain critics and Academy Award judges wetting their pants. Don’t pay £10-£15. You might as well wait for it to come out on Netflix and fall asleep on your own sofa. Or stay awake and enjoy the raping and somebody or other getting a machete in the head just for the hell of it. Or just wait for the next Isis offering.’
This is a very poorly constructed hodge-podge of half-baked ideas, but also, somewhere at the heart of it, it’s pretty damning stuff. Cadwalladr pretends to believe that if you appreciate The Revenant – and presumably any other film that dramatises violence in a realistic way – then you’re also the kind of person that gets off on snuff movies. You’re – essentially – a terrorist sympathiser. You’re Jihadi John.
‘Isis’s films are simply the next logical step of our films,’ she concludes. ‘Their culture is actually our culture too. Isis hasn’t invented any of this. It is just a bit more honest about it. More “authentic”. More “visceral”. More “real”.’
Sure, Carole. Whatever you say.
In a culture that’s saturated with opinion, columnists with no integrity will write any old garbage in order to stand out from the crowd, in order to get their clicks and earn their crust. That includes provoking, cajoling and pretending to believe the most ludicrous, offensive nonsense. Every attention-whore Hopkins-wannabe has to consult their conscience – if they have one – and make a choice. How far are they prepared to go?
Anyone who’s seen The Revenant and also read Carole Cadwalladr’s column will have little doubt as to which of them is a considered, carefully wrought work of art and which is a worthless, self-serving piece of crap on The Guardian website.
Ultimately, whether she means a word of what she’s written or not – and I’m going to pretend I mean absolutely no disrespect by this – Carole Cadwalladr is a fucking idiot.