Plants have long been used in storytelling as symbols to represent various themes and ideas. In books, movies, and television, plants are often strategically placed to enhance narratives, evoke emotions, and convey deeper meanings. From the elegant orchids of “The Great Gatsby” to the enchanted rose in “Beauty and the Beast,” plants add a layer of symbolism that enriches our viewing experience. In this article, we will explore the significance of plants in film and television, examining how they are used as symbols to represent different concepts and themes.
The Symbolism of Plants in Film and Television
Nature as a Reflection of Characters and Themes
Plants in film and television can serve as reflections of characters’ traits, emotions, and the overall theme of a story. Different plant species are often chosen intentionally to represent specific qualities and add depth to the narrative. For example, in the 2013 film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” the abundance of cascading blooms and china plates brimming with cake symbolize decadence and luxury[^1^]. The Phalaenopsis and Cymbidium Orchids used in the scene typically represent restrained dignity, but in this context, they are presented obsessively and over-the-top, underscoring the excessive nature of the characters.
Tranquility and Calmness
Plants, particularly indoor houseplants, are commonly used to create a sense of calm and tranquility in film and television. Zen gardens with elements like bubbling water, polished stone, and reflective glass are often employed to introduce a serene environment. In the 2006 film “When A Stranger Calls,” a Zen garden is used to create a peaceful atmosphere that contrasts with the plot twist of a killer hiding in the house, turning the garden into a refuge for survival[^1^].
Hope and Redemption
Plants can also symbolize hope and the redemptive powers of nature. In the 1994 film “Leon,” the hitman character shows tenderness as he cares for his Aglaonema silver queen plant. The vibrant colors of the plant contrast with the dreary surroundings, symbolizing hope and the potential for transformation[^1^]. The presence of the plant serves as a visual representation of the character’s capacity for growth and change.
Inner Turmoil and Emotional States
Plants can be used to represent a character’s inner turmoil, emotional state, or personal journey. In the TV show “Mad Men,” the office of the protagonist, Don Draper, is described as a blank canvas that reveals nothing about his inner turmoil. The addition of more plants in the office could have potentially added a sense of happiness and the calming effects of nature[^1^]. By intentionally omitting plants and greenery in his office, the show’s creators emphasize the disconnection between Don Draper’s external success and his internal struggles.
Opulence and Grandeur
Plants, especially lush and opulent plantings, can symbolize grandeur, wealth, and extravagance. The film “Alexander” (2004) depicts the Hanging Gardens of Babylon with a visually stunning display of tropical plants like Musa Bajoo and trailing creepers[^1^]. These lush plantings serve as a backdrop for the characters and their extravagant costumes, representing opulence and luxury.
Flowers as Symbolic Elements
While not strictly plants, flowers often hold symbolic meanings in movies and TV shows. They are used to convey messages and themes related to love, desire, innocence, beauty, hope, and more. In “Beauty and the Beast,” the enchanted rose symbolizes love and the ability to love[^3^]. In “The Wizard of Oz,” the poppy flowers represent sleep and peace[^3^]. Flowers are powerful visual signifiers that add layers of meaning to the scenes they appear in.
The use of plants in film and television goes beyond mere decoration. They are carefully chosen and strategically placed to convey symbolic meanings, enhance storytelling, and evoke emotions. Whether representing themes of decadence, tranquility, hope, inner turmoil, or opulence, plants play a significant role in conveying deeper messages in visual storytelling. By paying attention to the plants in our favorite movies and TV shows, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the thought and intention behind their placement and understand the symbolism they bring to the narratives.
[^1^]: ‘5 film scenes which make inspiring use of plants – Film and Furniture’. (n.d.). Retrieved from <a href=”https://filmandfurniture.com/2017/04/plants-in-the-movies-with-ian-drummond/“>https://filmandfurniture.com/2017/04/plants-in-the-movies-with-ian-drummond/](https://filmandfurniture.com/2017/04/plants-in-the-movies-with-ian-drummond/)
[^2^]: ‘Symbolic Flowers in Movies’. (n.d.). Retrieved from <a href=”https://www.1800flowers.com/blog/flowers-in-art/symbolic-flowers-in-movies/“>https://www.1800flowers.com/blog/flowers-in-art/symbolic-flowers-in-movies/](https://www.1800flowers.com/blog/flowers-in-art/symbolic-flowers-in-movies/)
[^3^]: ‘Flowers in Film: The Meaningful Role They’ve Played in Cinema’. (n.d.). Retrieved from <a href=”https://urbanstems.com/blog/guide/flowers-in-film“>https://urbanstems.com/blog/guide/flowers-in-film](https://urbanstems.com/blog/guide/flowers-in-film)