Scarlett Johansson: A Tree is Born

This week, in a glorious media blunder, ScarJo addressed an actor truism worthy of its own interview: “…As an actor, I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal…” end quote. Regardless of ‘truth’, the fragility of the simulation in which we live, whatever mediated-plastic-surgery-obscured version of celebrity quotes we read; it’s actually true, ScarJo should be allowed to play any tree.

Our world is hurtling towards oblivion in sync with our thirst for a miraculous object-oriented-ontology, strengthening our will to believe in the nature of things – and allowing ScarJo to play nature. It’s six months until 2020, so here are the trees ScarJo should have played, and perhaps how it fits into our wider performative ecological blunder.

As ‘Tree’ in Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986)

Not even Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky saw a final cut of his masterpiece due to his eventual death – ScarJo narrowly missed an opportunity to dig herself into the dirt that is slow-take-post-Soviet Russian cinema. Whatever – in 1986 she was only two, so that makes sense.

As ‘Metaphor Tree’ in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011)

Mother nature is not another word for tree, but The Tree Of Life could have used more motherly energy alongside Jessica Chastain. In classic Palme d’Or fare this wiener set in the 1950s casting was largely disproportionate between men, women, and trees. C’mon Terence!

As ‘Whomping Willow’ in Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Sick of rolling up to auditions for two dimensional tree roles, ScarJo wishes she had a chance to play a totally unapologetic tree like the Whomping Willow. This tree is given space for its rage, but it’s also got a sense of humour under the imaginative direction of Alfonso Cuaron. Dream Gig.

As ‘Treebeard’ in Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Trees run amok in LotR II but ScarJo was far too busy being quiet at a diner in Ghost World to make the trip to New Zealand for an opportunity to play the Ent ‘Treebeard’ – but eventually being voiced by Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies, it’s basically the same thing…

As ‘Grass’ in Jane Campion’s Bright Star (2009)

Nature is to Jane Campion what ScarJo is to Sofia Coppola – a match (point) made in heaven. The two flore-teures collaborated on Bright Star when ScarJo appeared as bushy grass swaying in the wind. Her role was cut short because of scheduling conflicts with Vicky Christina Barcelona (again, travel, hello?!) 

As ‘Groot’ in James Gunn’s Guardians of The Galaxy (2014)

ScarJo fought tooth and nail to play the adorable Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy instead of the inevitable corpse of Black Widow, but lost out to Vin Diesel who needed to offset his Fast 8 carbon footprint.

As ‘Moreton Bay Fig’ in Julie Bertucelli’s The Tree (2010) 

Julie Bertucelli’s underrated Australian melodrama The Tree closed the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, but could have been a moment for ScarJo to give a bit of a Meryl Streep in Season Two of Big Little Lies devil’s advocate moment. In a role perfect for adding grief to grief, *spoiler alert* Charlotte Gainsbourg is left a widow with four children, grieving and making it work in rural Queensland. The story ends with the giant tree by their house falling in a storm and destroying everything, forcing the family to move. This caused a seven minute standing ovation at the festival and one wonders how it could have been with Scarlett in the role instead of a 34 m spread, 20m height, and 2.31m diameter Moreton Bay Fig estimated to have been planted in 1880.

As the ‘Soul Tree’ in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Part I and II (2013)

Scarlett Johansson’s schedule was unfortunately all filled up when she was asked by Lars Von Trier to play Charlotte Rampling’s battered mountain top ‘soul tree’ in feminist masterpiece Nymphomaniac Pt. II. She is however courting the infamous Trier for a planned sequel to Antichrist

As ‘Horny Tree’ in Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009)

ScarJo is unafraid of an auteur – especially when said auteur offers a tree role. This was her first collaboration with Dogme dog Lars Von Trier who needs an apologetic and ‘fearless’ actress to appear as a horny tree in Antichrist.

As ‘Björkian Crystal Trees’ in Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2018)

In retrospect, these crystal trees at the end of Annihilation were such a missed opportunity for Scarlett. In object-oriented-ontology, nature doesn’t exist, and all things are equal. Within the framework her current practice is taking, Annihilation seemed like the perfect film for her to flex her post-human cross-species muscles.

As ‘Opening Tree’ in Murali K. Thalluri’s 2:37 (2006)

Yes! That controversial pre-13 Reasons Why, Elephant-esque high school drama made by Adelaide filmmaker Murali K. Thalluri opens with poignant shots of the sun piercing through the leaves of the very same type of French trees scientists are trying to save in Agnes Varda’s Vagabond (1985). It felt like a real twofer for ScarJo; she saw the film kind of randomly when studying Teresa Palmer’s career to get into a Cate Shortland mindset for Black Widow (20??).

As ‘Djap Warrung Trees’

Absolutely insistent she play any and all things, Ms. Johansson believes she should be the international face of the sacred 800 year old birthing trees the Victorian Government have scheduled to remove for a road. If that fails, she is also talking to Bob Brown and Extinction Rebellion about her chance to play a tree facing deforestation in the Tasmanian Wilderness, rapidly opening up thanks to the LNP. Anything for that gold.

As ‘Vertigo Tree’ in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)

Sick of seeing young and beautiful trees on screen constantly? ScarJo has switched gears and is looking for longevity. Men can continue playing their own age forever while women must jump through unimaginable hurdles to maintain their youth. ‘Fuck that’, said Scarlett – I’m going as old as they get. When it was announced this year that Gus Van Sant would be directing Vertigo – another shot-for-shot Hitchcock remake, after the slow turning of public opinion about his genius queering of Psycho – ScarJo was first in line to play that enormous cut down redwood dating back to 909 AD.

As ‘Future Tree’ in Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E (2008)

As Disney continues its absolutely joyous and performatively woke celebration of itself it side-steps the obvious hurdles of remaking a live-action Pocahontas straight into WALL-E, and you know who wants to be that little light at the end of the dystopian tunnel? Scarlett Johansson!

As ‘Tree’ in James Cameron’s Avatar (2009)

It’s kind of hard to remember the specifics of The Best Film Ever Made AND even though that year #oscarssofeminist voted for The Hurt Locker, Avatar still remains the GOAT. In fact, just when we need this multi-sensory Climate Change meditation the most, it’s coming back for seven-ish more sequels to really cement itself over herstory. Remember that big old tree the villain cut down? It was originally played by Samantha Morton but when James Cameron saw the rushes he thought it didn’t sound sexy enough and re-recorded its voice with Scarlett’s instead.

As ‘Elvis Tree’ in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis (TBC)

And finally, ScarJo is cast as the Elvis tree in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Elvis, which everyone thought would be a Bohemian Rhapsody take on the rise and fall of the titular rockstar but will actually be a Kiarostami-esque portrait of a tree famous for looking like Elvis Presley.


Jack Jen Atherton and André Shannon are Sydney based filmmakers and regular contributors to ROUGH CUT. Their radio segment Movies, Movies, Movies airs every Monday at 10:10 am on FBi 94.5. Find them on

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