Casper aside, we don’t typically think of ghosts as being all that friendly. Camp counselors don’t tell ghost stories around the fire to help their campers sleep better at night, after all. The ghosts of our popular imagination are usually scary, sometimes dangerous, and always dead.
The cinematic specters we see are typically no better. From the spooky spirits from 1963’s
The Haunting to the ticked-off terrors in 1982’s Poltergeist to the terrifying presence in 2014’s The Babadook, ghosts are generally bad news.
But that’s not always the case. In
The Revenant, for example, the ghosts are about the most optimistic, most encouraging entities in the entire story.
Sometimes people come back — at least in the movies — with the very best of intentions. They want to help the hero in some way with a word of encouragement or a friendly nudge down the right path. Sure, there are times when these well-meaning spirits can be frightening, but often they’re figures of comfort — a welcome presence in times of incredible stress. They’re almost always close to the person they’re haunting — a dear friend, a cherished relation. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they’re ghosts at all, visiting in dreams or visions or in deeply reflective moments.
It’s interesting that Hollywood comes back to these friendly ghosts time after time. Filmmakers seem to understand how important our family members and friends are, even when they’ve been gone for a while. They get our yearning to be reunited with them — to feel their hand in our lives even beyond the grave. Perhaps it’s even an acknowledgement that, for most of us, death is not the end — the soul lives on. And we will see each other again.
These ghosts are certainly not sequestered to horror movies. They can be found in box-office blockbusters, critical darlings or even in kids’ movies. Read on below, if you dare, and enter the strange, surprisingly sweet world where the living and dead intermingle and no one seems to mind.
Note: Some spoilers below!
The Revenant (2015)
Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is, it would seem, utterly alone. His wife died years earlier. His only son was killed before his eyes. His friends and comrades deserted him, leaving him to the mercies of weather and wilderness. And yet even on this solitary journey of survival, Glass finds mysterious company — company that sometimes he alone can see. During an incredibly lucid fever dream, Glass finds himself in a ruined church, the bell swinging mutely as he greets his dead son in the rubble. Throughout his journey, Glass sees his dead wife in visions: she exhorts him to move on — to survive, no matter how hard it might be.
Kimberley French | 20th Century Fox Film Corp | Courtesy Everett Collection
“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight,” she tells him. “You breathe. Keep breathing. 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.”
Hugh Glass listens and obeys. Spirits from his own fractured past push him to survive and rebuild — no easy task.