Why Leonardo DiCaprio's Bear Scene From The Revenant Was A Brutal Nightmare To Film

It won last weekend at the box office, but Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant is a brutal, punishing movie to watch. The action follows man who is mauled by a giant grizzly bear and is ultimately left for dead. This happens early in the movie, and is an impressive feat, but according to one stuntman involved in the process, bringing this moment to life was a total nightmare.

The bear attack is a grueling, visceral moment that feels grounded and real. But it wasn’t, the bear was actually a stuntman named Glenn Ennis. To accomplish this feat, he wore a big blue costume and walked, talked, and generally acted like a bear in the woods. And apparently it sucked. Talking to Global News, he said:

Alejandro shot the scene chronologically, from its beginning to its end, two minutes in total. It was very difficult if you look at the geography where the attack takes place. Leo is thrown against a tree, turned over, rolled over, tossed, batted and then he crawls … he had three wires attached to him the entire time. Those got tangled in my feet, around his legs, around his head. Everything had to be choreographed in order to unwrap the wire so we could make the next move. After you do a two-minute session like that, you’re exhausted and your thighs are burning. You’ve got to put it all back together and start again.

If you’ve seen The Revenant, or really any of Inarritu’s other movies, you know that that he’s fond of long, elaborate takes where there’s lots of camera movement and intricate staging and choreography. The epic bear attack is no different, and you have to imagine that with the director’s eye for detail and precision, this was a scene that required a great many takes. With the physicality required of Ennis, it’s easy to imagine how quickly doing this repeatedly would take a toll on your body. And this is a guy who was entirely engulfed in flames for a scene in Jason Vs. Freddy, among other things, so you know it must have been rough going. (I can’t help but be curious about his take on the "bear rape" rumors.)

This is another in a long line of anecdotes about how difficult it was to shoot The Revenant. They filmed outdoors in the frozen wilderness of Canada, and later Argentina, recreating the brutal wintery conditions, and a number of behind the scenes personnel left the production over safety concerns. Star Leonardo DiCaprio, who many believe is the frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar this year, did all kinds of crazy stuff, like swimming through frozen rivers and eating raw bison liver. Shit got pretty real.

After all is said and done, one thing is clear, The Revenant was one hell of a harrowing production on just about every level. It’s in theaters now, and we’ll see if these extremes paid off in February as it is nominated for a number of Academy Awards.

Brent McKnight