How Leonardo DiCaprio Should’ve Handled That Bear Attack

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A lesson for Leo. Photo: Kagan McLeod/New York Magazine

Early in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s frontier endurance test The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio comes between a mama grizzly and her cubs, resulting in a vicious attack (which was misidentified by some viewers as a rape) that sets the film’s plot in motion. Should you, like DiCaprio’s character Hugh Glass, ever find yourself in such a situation, here — according to ursine expert Paige Davidson of the Montana Grizzly Encounter sanctuary — is a handy primer that’ll help minimize the mauling.

1. Make Noise
Glass is quietly trundling through the snow before the attack. Big mistake. “Bears have an innate fear of humans,” says Davidson. “If they hear a voice, they’re not going to stick around.” A sensible modern frontiersperson should carry a pepper-based bear-deterrent spray, but that didn’t exist in 1823 — being loud was the best substitute. 

2. Avoid Eye Contact
Eye contact and assertive posture, both of which Glass offers in the few seconds before the animal hits him, can be interpreted by a grizzly as signs of aggression. The key, explains Davidson, is to “turn your head to the side so that the bear can’t tell that you’re looking at it.” If you can manage that, talking to the bear is a good idea, too, so that “the bear knows you’re human” and lumbers away.

3. Drop and Stop
In the film, DiCaprio’s character never de­escalates the situation and has to endure the bear’s attack. If that happens, your best (though admittedly bad) option is to lie flat on your stomach with your hands clasped at the knuckles over the back of your neck to protect your jugular. Wearing a backpack helps too, as bears usually bite the closest thing — Glass only had his rump to offer. Though, as Davidson points out, “you can take a bite to the butt and survive.”

4. Be Still
Post-attack, the bear of The Revenant spends a few seconds standing on Glass’s head, sniffing him and drooling on his face. Glass then whimpers rather than screams — this time, quietness is smart, because, says Davidson, “the only way a bear knows to tell you to stop screaming is to bite where the noise is coming from.” When the mama bear walks off, Glass makes a mistake by crawling away, activating the bear’s instinct to chase prey. “You want to stay in that position until you’re positive that the bear is no longer in the area.”

5. Let It Go
Glass shoots the departing bear in the shoulder, incurring more mauling. Retaliation, says Davidson, “is not a good idea. Unless you’re an expert marksman who can shoot a bear running at you at 35 miles an hour while you’re crapping your pants.”  

The Revenant goes into wide release on January 8.

*This article appears in the December 28, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.