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Happy Trees & The Gloomy Revenant

Happy trees The Revenant

There are major differences between the picture of a forest that Bob Ross paints with his paintbrush and the one that Alejandro Iñárritu paints with his movie, The Revenant.  Both artists set out to encapsulate the essence of the forest. One artist scrawls “happy trees” into existence and the other magnifies the feelings of isolation and helplessness that the vast landscape encourages. (I should probably get an honorary PhD for that last sentence, but since I won’t, I’ll continue this metaphor even further.)

The Revenant is far too grim to discuss on its own. Throughout the discussion, words like “gritty,” “violent,” and “unpleasant” are always at the tip of your tongue. It is almost criminal that they released the movie on a bleak January evening. We need something hopeful and uplifting to anchor the discussion in, so that the dark stormy cloud that is The Revenant doesn’t ruin our Wednesday. We need someone with unwavering optimism to help us see the forest for the ominous and savage trees. Bob Ross is that bright, pocket squirreled man that will help us escape the bleakness of The Revenant.

 Happy Trees


Bob Ross likes to call mistakes, “happy accidents.” For Ross, trees are a way to hide the mistakes that are part of the inevitable process. Throughout the movie, DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is haunted by the following words:

When there is a storm. And you stand in front of a tree. If you look at its branches, you swear it will fall. But if you watch the trunk, you will see its stability.

In the movie, trees are reminders of the people that they’ve lost and the mistakes they made to get them there. For both artists, their work is an opportunity to show beautiful, picturesque images. Iñárritu lingers on the silhouettes of trees. Leo repeats his tree stability mantra. There are so many tree references that I can’t tell who enjoyed trees more, Bob Ross or Leo.

Good & Bad/Dark & Light


All good heroes need an adversary. In The Revenant, Glass’ opponent has somewhat justifiable motives. (Emphasis on somewhat.) Tom Hardy’s character, John Fitzgerald, has the only humorous dialogue. Fitzgerald is the only character that seems to be able to make his own choices. He is the main source of evil in a movie that takes place between warring tribes and feuding armies.

Dicaprio’s portrayal of Hugh Glass is only as good as Hardy’s version of Fitzgerald. As you know, “You need the dark, in order to show the light.” You need the villain, in order to show the promise in the hero.

It’s Not About The Bear


The Revenant is a story about revenge. (Notice that this summary does not include a bear.) Often, The Revenant gets generalized as “the movie where the bear attacks Leo.” There is a bear attack, but the movie is so much more than that. It would be like calling Star Wars a “movie about aliens in a bar.”   The movie also gets generalized into being just a vehicle for DiCaprio to win his Oscar. I’ll admit I’ve fallen victim to this theory. Initially, I thought the combination of the gorgeous settings and merciless plotline was just for the sake of winning an award. It all seemed disingenuous.

I, however, am going to choose to believe that this movie was put together with love and not just an evil ploy to get an Oscar. Like Bob Ross says, good artists can create “anything they desire.”   The opening battle scene is evidence of that. Similar to the continuing battle scene from Atonement, (watch here) what seems like one continuous shot keeps the audience’s head on a swivel.   That scene didn’t seem like it was made out of pride or greed. It was made out of love creating “anything you desire.”

I’ll admit that this is a forced comparison. The movie shares some similarities, but it’s not perfect. I wanted to utilize Bob Ross’ optimism to show that even though the movie is an emotional rollercoaster, it is still a beautiful and lovely creation.

Just like a happy tree.

Article written by Megan Suttles

I can't decide if I want to use this space to be witty or insightful. I guess it will be neither.