Why Did Leonardo DiCaprio Sleep In A Horse? 'The Revenant' Cribs A Scene From 'The Empire Strikes Back'

The Revenant contains a lot of unlikely scenarios in which Leonardo DiCaprio's character Hugh Glass avoids certain death, bruised but alive. The trapper is mauled by a bear, buried and left for dead, swept downstream in a frozen river, starved, and on top of it all, witnesses his son murdered before his eyes by a fellow expedition member (Tom Hardy). But perhaps the most improbable episode comes when Glass plummets over the edge of a cliff on horseback, only to survive and continue on his revenge quest. He plunges through the branches of a tree and, battered by the impact, his clothes drenched and a storm brewing (there's always a storm brewing in The Revenant), he takes refuge in a scene straight out of Star Wars (think Luke Skywalker sleeping inside a tauntaun). So why did Leonardo DiCaprio sleep inside a horse?

Let's back up a second: How does the ultimate survivor — the namesake for The Revenant's title — fall off a cliff in the first place? Glass steals a horse (the one he'll eventually sleep inside) from a group of French trappers after freeing a young Native American woman from their captivity. A group of Native Americans set off in hot pursuit, chasing Glass on horseback across a frozen plain. But Glass is far too focused on the threat at his heels to realize that he's charging straight towards a sudden drop. When he turns back to see where he's heading, it's too late — he and horse are sent straight off the end by sheer momentum. The horse dies on impact; Glass somehow survives. A tree breaks his fall just enough to spare him mortal injury. The Native Americans above likely turn back, presuming him dead (and reasonably so — there's no earthly way a man could survive everything Glass's body is put through in The Revenant). Night quickly approaches, and Glass must find a way to take shelter without giving away his location. So, a campfire out of the question, he slices open the horse's belly, pulling its insides out, crawling inside, and pulling it shut around him.

It's probably not too much of a spoiler to say that Glass survives again. After all, he's survived everything else — a frozen night inside a horse's hollowed-out body is nothing. And his bear skin, drenched from a quick dip in a river and frosty with snow, is miraculously dry by the morning. The parallels to the tauntaun scene in The Empire Strikes Back are clear: Luke Skywalker, out on an expedition on the ice planet Hoth, comes under attack from a bear-like monster called a wampa. Critically injured, Skywalker would likely freeze before he makes it back to the rebel base, were it not for Han Solo riding in on a tauntaun. The creature keels over almost immediately, and the two men pull a Glass and sleep inside to keep them warm and alive for the night.

(It also bears parallels to an even more disturbing scene in Bryan Fuller's series Hannibal — in one episode, a brain-damaged animal caretaker retaliates against the disturbed killer who had framed him for multiple murders by sewing the killer up inside a horse.)

Yet PETA need not be alarmed — no horses were harmed in the making of The Revenant. Production designer Jack Fisk revealed to Business Insider how the movie created its gruesome scenes, including the horse sequences. Two separate prop animals were constructed for the moment: One horse was used to film the chase scene, while another was to be cut open later. The guts, too, were props-styling magic, constructed out of hair and latex inside of the fake-horse body.

But The Revenant wasn't all invention and backstage creation. Back in October, DiCaprio explained to Yahoo! Movies that filming in a literal frozen netherworld reportedly took an enormous physical toll on DiCaprio and the rest of the cast and crew. DiCaprio spoke of eating raw bison liver and sleeping inside animal carcasses. (Fake as it might have been, it's still a gory concept — and DiCaprio preserves some of the movie magic by treating the carcass as a real horse in interviews.) According to the Hollywood Reporter, one actor was dragged naked across the frozen ground in a battle scene while crew members endured subzero temperatures and resulting equipment malfunctions.

Though the horse scene, and the much-lauded bear fight scene, were the result of meticulous production efforts rather than constructed out of real animals, the cast and crew still endured an improbably difficult shoot in the process of making The Revenant. DiCaprio need not even make sleeping inside an animal carcass out to be more than it was; shooting The Revenant seems to have been a trial by ice for all involved.

Images: Twentieth Century Fox (3)