Leonardo DiCaprio is at long last being tipped for Oscar success for his latest film, Alejandro Inarritu’s grueling The Revenant. He’s already won Best Actor at the BAFTAs for his portrayal of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper abandoned by his team who survives extremes of bad weather and bad luck in his quest for bloody revenge. Arduous for the actors and the audience alike, it is a real endurance test of a film. But no one who has watched five minutes of Ray Mears or Bear Grylls could sustain the belief that Leo would pull through even one of the situations he finds himself in…
Scenario 1. Having been mauled, twice, by a grizzly bear and left for dead by your comrades, you find yourself alone and severely injured in a snowy forest. All you have is a flask, a knife, various pelts and a flint. You must fight to stay alive, to avenge the brutal murder of your son. What should you do to restore your strength?
What Leo does: Using the last scraps of his energy, Leo hauls himself across the snow to his son’s frozen corpse and falls asleep with his cheek pressed to the dead boy’s chest.
What a real explorer would do: ‘Light a fire if there is the means to do so (which, with a flint, there should be),’ recommends a mountaineer specialising in unclimbed, hard to access peaks, ‘and then dig a snow hole to stay warm near the fire as soon as possible. I’d also eat some of the pelts which would have feed value in them – the knife would be handy for that.’
Scenario 2: Your Red Indian foes spot you while you hide on a riverbank. The only way to avoid them is to fling yourself into the icy water. You are carried downstream in the near-frozen torrents and chucked down several cascading waterfalls. Eventually you manage to haul yourself – still dressed in the now soaking pelt of an entire bear – onto shore. You urgently need to get warm. How do you avoid frostbite?
What Leo does: After blowing on his fingers, Leo wraps his sodden clothes tightly around him, stumbles a few feet from the riverbank and collapses into the snow. He manages to light a fire and huddles around it.
What a real explorer would do: ‘This is a nightmare scenario,’ sighs Julian Thomas, Master of Wellington College and part-time polar explorer who trekked from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole in 2015. ‘Even out of the water your core temperature will continue to drop, so find somewhere that is sheltered from the wind and get those wet clothes off immediately. Use anything you can find to insulate yourself. If you are still able to, start some basic exercise: press-ups, running on the spot, anything that improves blood flow and raises your core temperature. If possible, light a fire. Sit with your knees pulled up to your chest to conserve heat. Dry your clothes next to the fire and put them back on as soon as possible.’
Scenario 3: You fall off a cliff, on horseback, while being pursued by a rival band intent on murder. Happily, a towering fir tree breaks your fall. Your horse is not so lucky and plummets to his death. You come to beside its corpse. Night is drawing in, and with it a snowstorm. The only way to get over your shock is a long sleep. How do you knuckle down for the night?
What Leo does: Slices open the horse, shucks out the inner organs and climbs into the body.
What a real explorer would do: ‘If I were making an entertaining TV series I’d slice open the horse and clamber into its belly,’ says Ben Saunders, the polar explorer best known for leading the first ever return journey to the South Pole on foot via Shackleton and Scott’s route. ‘In reality, with black bear, coyote and mountain lions around, all looking for grub, I’d slice off some decent contra-filet de cheval to cook for dinner as soon as I’d got a fire going, and then try and find shelter well away from poor old trigger, probably in some form of tree pit in the snow if there are decent firs around, using additional branches to create a roof.’