Much has been made of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s THE REVENANT, and rightfully so: it’s a feat of accomplishment unrivaled in contemporary film, naturally breathtaking and visually as impactful as a bear attack. For his Herculean efforts, Lubezki won his third consecutive Oscar, cementing his place among the very best of his profession.
But what if there was more to Lubezki’s cinematography in THE REVENANT than just brilliant imagery? What if inside his elegant aesthetic there was a hidden layer of meaning that infused and informed Inarritu’s narrative on more than a visual level? That’s the hypothesis undertaken by Lewis Bond in his latest essay for his own Channel Criswell, and once again the path he takes to answer it is as eloquent as the question.
According to Bond, the primary factor that influences Lubezki’s cinematography in The REVENANT is the idea of audience immersion, getting people as close to inside the story and its characters as possible. This is achieved by Lubezki’s expectations of the audience’s emotional and cognitive reactions to the use of wide and extra wide angle lenses, long, uninterrupted set pieces, choosing to shoot on digital over film to reduce noise and sharpen the images, and other such decisions that as Bond says have “drastic subconscious effect on the viewer.”
Every element of a film should propel the story forward, it should enrich some facet of the narrative from setting to time to character, and as Bond proves in “THE REVENANT – Feral Tranquility,” the cinematography of Lubezki does practically as much as the screenplay does in telling the film, and the meaning behind it is a trap, so to speak, set for the viewer’s full attention, it is a lure that leads to the heart of Inarritu’s film and the people who populate it. In that way, Lubezki isn’t just a photographer, he’s a storyteller in his own right.