Staying to the end of The Revenant’s credits you might notice, if you’re looking for it, a suspicious lack of the usual ‘No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Motion Picture’ message, accompanied by the American Humane Association’s iconic multispecies stamp. This is troubling, because it means there may have been insufficient levels of monitoring – therefore the AHA could not approve it – or worse, that they did monitor the film but the production did not match animal welfare standards. Sadly, the ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ label is largely redundant, a mere trick of the trade used to comfort viewers and deflect criticism from the likes of animal rights groups such as PETA. Film companies have been known to suppress the truth about animal casualties on set to prevent charges of failing to adhere to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and to avoid negative press about a movie.
In 2013, Hollywood Reporter journalists exposed the AHA’s many cover ups, stating that it is entirely funded by the industry that it supposedly monitors. Furthermore, it has intentionally distorted its criteria to allow movies on which stunt animals died to claim the humane stamp anyway, using tactics including only monitoring animal wellbeing in footage that goes into the final cut but ignoring deleted footage of injuries and any behind the scenes accidents or abuses. By all accounts the worse incident of such deception comes from the filming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, during which 27 animals – mainly horses – perished due to poor management. It got the AHA stamp anyway. As if if there weren’t enough reasons to hate that film. Was it really worth any animal deaths, let alone dozens? The answer is: fuck no, for fuck’s sake.
In any case, the ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ statement is, and always has been, an utter, woeful lie. Regardless of how well looked after and happy the animals on set may have been, or even if there was not a single one in the production from start to finish, the film cannot claim any sort of moral high ground if it hired Craft Services to feed the crew. Unless them canteens only serve plant-based foods (they definitely serve dead bodies) then every single motion picture released in history cannot lay claim to the ethical treatment of animals. That’s correct: Animals were harmed during the making of your personal favorite motion picture. But back to The Revenant and its leading man.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s work as an environmentalist is well documented – he puts as much energy into renewable energy and the reversing of global warming as he does into his acting nowadays. It’s not for show. He really does care. His foundation provides funding to many worthy organisations, while the man himself regularly speaks at climate change awareness events – such as the recent Climate Crisis Paris talks. Cowspiracy, a 2014 documentary about the negative impact of the animal agriculture industry on the world’s habitats, is currently opening eyes and changing lives at a prodigious rate. Mr DiCaprio is largely to thank for this; it was his passion for the independent project that led him to take on a producing role, fund an extended cut, and get the film onto Netflix, which is when it really began to turn some heads – and turn many off beef for good.
During the press tour for The Revenant, the riveting historical revenge drama from Birdman director Alejandro Innaritu, DiCaprio regularly brought up the issue of climate change in relation to the film. On multiple occasions location changes were a forced necessity because, even in icy tundras of remote Canada and Argentina, caps were melting, there was not enough snow, and it just wasn’t cold enough – all of which the long time multiple-Academy nominee puts down to man made pollution.
This admirable commitment to saving the planet and its inhabitants makes some of DiCaprio’s on set ‘method’ choices for The Revenant seem just a tiny bit hypocritical. After all, he has been an advocate of a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle for several years now, citing his disdain for animal agriculture practices and empathy for other living creatures as incentives, not to mention the compelling evidence that the animal food industry contributes more to worldwide greenhouse gases than literally any other practice, including all vehicle transportation. So why, then, would Leo choose to eat meat on camera for The Revenant? In an interview with USA Today, the flexitarian explains:
“I looked at what I was eating and it didn’t seem authentic… We were striving for authenticity. My reaction to eating that piece of meat is right up on screen”
Apparently, the prosthetic raw bison liver his character was made to chomp on didn’t quite make the cut. He needed something more ‘authentic’, to really flesh out the performance. Real raw bison’s liver, then. Interestingly, in the name of art it becomes fine to consume the body of an animal that was killed so that it could be used in a movie. His reaction, by the way, was to violently hurl it straight back up again – perhaps his ethical gag reflex kicking into gear – but whether or not he kept it down is irrelevant. He still ate it, because he was willing to do anything he could to prove his worth as an actor and finally gain that Oscar after five nominations without a win. Leo knew this role as wilderness survivalist Hugh Glass could finally clinch it for him, and to create buzz around himself and the film he decided to go all the way. Sure enough, he wasn’t wrong – the media latched onto the raw bison liver stunt like a school of piranhas.
The Telegraph ran a piece about what was and was not faked when shooting The Revenant. Mainly because to the uninformed it appears as though an awful lot of animal abuse is going on behind – and indeed in – the scenes. What with the thousands of pelts hoarded by the fur trapper protagonists, plus the horses being whipped and thwacked and knocked over all over the place, it looks like some kind of post-apocalyptic Cirque De Sadism. Much of these goings on weren’t real, as the article informs us that CGI and prosthetics were used wherever possible, and all of the animal skins were either replicated or were genuine but date back a while (i.e pre-existing, not produced for this film). These details are important. It is not a denial of the reality of what went on during the boom of the fur industry and cultural genocide of the Native American people – these can be fully acknowledged and replicated without the need to perpetuate that suffering all over again. If it can be faked, it should.
People want to be reassured of such things, because they do not like the idea of innocent creatures being killed for entertainment. The movie going public would never support animal torture in the pursuit of a film that was 100% real, shot for shot. To do this would be impracticable on so many levels; nobody would have the cast hacked to bits for extra authenticity – it would be lunacy, and not many actors would consent to it (excepting DiCaprio, if there was a guaranteed posthumous Oscar in the contract). One only has to look back at Ruggero Deodato’s charges of murder and subsequent court appearances following the release of his grisly cult classic Cannibal Holocaust, which had been labeled a snuff film by critics. And he didn’t even kill anyone! If Innaritu and Spielberg started bumping off actors they wouldn’t last long. Or maybe they would just be moved beyond the relevant legal jurisdiction, so that they could continue to churn out hits and make money for the big companies, all from a
Polanski safe distance away.
In addition to the buffalo corpse, soon-to-be Golden boy Leonardo also decided to capture a live fish, then bite into it and rip a hunk of flesh from its writhing body. Now, no official word has been made by the actor or anyone on the set about whether or not this is unedited footage. The rumours about its authenticity, and DiCaprio’s silence, suggest that this ghetto sushi lunch actually happened. He did swallow this time, and didn’t seem to spit it back out neither. Why this was not done through computer effects is unclear – other than that Leonarado didn’t want it to be, so that he could add layers of ‘authenticity’ to the role and thus up his chances of bagging a statue. Fish don’t have feelings anyway, right? But really, if VFX was used for wolves, deer, bears, buffalo, and some extreme white river rafting, it could have been used here too.
Personally, I think DiCaprio should not win the Oscar for best actor this year. He didn’t really get almost mauled to death by a brown bear. Those weren’t really huge gaping holes in his body, exposing the layers of fat and muscle beneath. That dead horse he gutted and slept in Taun Taun style wasn’t even an actual dead horse! The man is a shuckster! But the odds seem to be in his favour. Always the brides maid, maybe just this once the bride. To be fair though, he did deserve to win for The Departed.
If the long-suffering thesp does at last get his Oscar -which for the sake of ending the jokes about him not getting one would be worth it alone – then he will probably make a stand against climate change and animal agriculture as part of his acceptance speech. Look closely as he beams up there on the podium. Look into his glimmering self-righteous eyes, down into his optic stems, right on through to the very core of inner being. Lying there you will see his guilt at exploiting those animals in The Revenant. His future Oscar is but blood money and, as Macbeth found out to his horror, he will never be able to wash the fish oil from his hands.