‘Elk Tongue’ and The Revenant



“The main character, his name was Elk Tongue. I went to the director and said, ‘What parent in their right mind would name their kid Elk Tongue? It’s like naming your kid ‘dumb ass’ (…)”

Leonardo DiCabrio has earned his Oscar. Not only because he ate raw bison liver but he also learned two new languages for his role: Pawnee and Arikara – spoken by Native Americans in Oklahoma and Dakota.

This was something I liked a lot in The Revenant – apart from the beautiful landscapes and its intensity. I think the reason behind it is that Alejandro Iñárritu is its director. He’s not American, but Mexican, so he had to learn English first to be where he’s now – in one of the highest postions in Hollywood, I’d say.

Iñárritu is a multilingual director – yey, we’re an increasing number! He has made films both in Spanish – Amores Perros, Biutiful – and English – Birdman and Babel, a film that has much to do with languages and communication.

We’ve lots of languages in this film, including French and Hardy’s own personal dialect – seriously, I could barely understand his character, John Figtzerald.

In The Revenant   US is no man’s land, where invasors – French and English – figh their way, massacring the Native American’s tribes, who in turn attack back the best they can. In this not very welcoming place Hugh Glass – who apparently existed back in the time – stands out as a man who married a  Pawnee woman and is taking care of their son – although nothing of this seems to be historically accurated.

At the beginning he’s attacked my a bear protecting her two cubs – wonderful CGI, for a change. To me this violent attack was a metaphor of the North American’s invasion. Can be blame the bear that is trying to protect her offsprings? Native Americans were protrayed as the bad guys in so many US Westerns – I think it’s outrageous. At least Iñárritu is giving them a much decent role in his story.

Coming back to Hugh Glass, he’s a very literate man: he speaks Pawnee, and it’s this language precisely – and not his native English – the one that  brings him encouragement in his darkest moments – he imagines his wife talking to him. He also speaks Arikara which, arguibly, brings him his much desired revenge.

Alejandro Iñárritu took special care of the accuracy of Native American languages in the film. Here it is an interview made to one of his advisors, who explained to him why calling his main character ‘Elk Tongue’ was not the brightest idea.

So there you go. If you go to a foreign, dangerous land, bring with yourself a conversational phrase book. You never know when you have to scream for help or ask permision to share a raw bison recently hunted…

Have you watched The Revenant? Could you understand Tom Hardy?




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