A Terrifying Bear Attack
So, this month I finally watched The Revenant. (It’s been out since 2015.)
The way the movie usually gets summarized is, “Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets mauled by a bear, and his companions leave him for dead.”
Well, they don’t exactly leave him for dead. There is a lot of back and forth. There is money involved, and racial tensions, plus the difficulty of carrying a grievously injured man through rough country on a litter. But yes, basically, he does end up getting left for dead at some point, after efforts have been made to save him (and other efforts to finish him off).
Anyway, after watching, the big question in my mind was the same as in everyone else’s after seeing the movie: How in the world did they film the scene where he gets mauled by a bear?
It looks really real. I have embedded a YouTube clip of it at the end of this section, which you can watch if you have the stomach for it. At one point, the bear steps on the supine man’s head, stretches its neck forward, and snuffles directly at the camera. The glass fogs up from its breath.
Please tell me they didn’t use a real bear.
The first step, of course, was to study the credits carefully. Let’s see … Native American and First Nations acting agency … thanks to the Pawnee and Arikara nations … cultural consultants …. this stuff is fascinating. (One thing I loved about the movie was that subtitles, not dubbing, were used whenever characters were speaking Arikara, Pawnee, or French.) Oh, here it is. Animal wranglers. Wolves supplied by. Horses supplied by. Eagle supplied by. Hmm. There were no actual bears mentioned, but there were “animal puppeteers” and tons of animators.
It looks like it wasn’t a real bear.
Next step: Google. I found this article, where I learned that no, it wasn’t a real bear. It was a man in a blue suit. Even so, it took them four days just to shoot the six-minute scene, and then the bear’s muscles, skin, and fur had to be animated in separate layers.
The other disturbing thing was this: the only reason they didn’t use a real bear, was that captive bears nowadays are all too fat to be realistic.
I think that was a good move on their part.
Yes, in some ways the violent and unscrupulous humans are scarier, but actually … no. They are not. The scariest thing is the bear.
Euphemisms for Bear
It may surprise you to learn that the English word bear is not actually the original Indo-European word. It is a euphemism. The word used by the Indo-European ancestors, on the Ukrainian plains, was something like hrtko. My Indo-European dictionary explains in a sidebar:
The Proto-Indo-European word for “bear,” rtko-, was inherited in Hittite hartaggash, Sanskrit rksah, Greek arktos, Latin ursus, and Old Irish art.
But in the northern branches [of the Indo-European language family], the word has undergone taboo replacement. The names of wild animals are often taboo to hunters … Among the new expressions for “bear” were “the good calf” in Irish, “honey pig” in Welsh, “honey eater” in Russian, and “the licker” in Lithuanian. English “bear” and its other German cognates are also the result of taboo replacement, as etymologically they mean “the brown one.” (see bher-)The American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European Roots, p. 74
(In case any linguistics purists are reading this, I should note that important diacritic marks are missing from the Indo-European, Hittite, and Sanskrit words in this quote.)
We can imagine that there were a number of terrifying attacks behind this taboo replacement. Or perhaps there was just one, well- (or horribly-) timed one, early in the northern Indo-Europeans’ journey towards their eventual homelands.
So, here are some euphemisms for bear:
- bear/bruin (“the brown one”)
- Beowulf (“bee-wolf”)
- Medved (“honey eater”) (honey = mead)
In my books, the family ends up calling bears “the bad one.”
I like bears. But only as an idea. As actual creatures, they have earned their place on this October’s list of … Scary Things.