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Scenery Dissonance

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"To all my Rebel friends, fly on over to sunny Scarif, it's a blast!"

"He was distressed to think that something so nasty could happen somewhere as idyllic as this."

A form of Mood Dissonance, this is when either:

  • Unpleasant scenarios are presented in settings with pleasant scenery.
  • Pleasant scenarios are presented in settings with unpleasant scenery.

For the former, the impact of the whole can be more than that of the sum of its parts, whether because it seems a waste that the character's enjoyment of the scenery is curtailed by the situation, or for whichever other reason. For the latter, it can be used to indicate that hope is not lost, even when it seems otherwise.

Compare Crapsaccharine World when the pleasantness of the setting as a whole conceals its rotten nature. See also Snow Means Death (when the beauty of snow is used to further highlight a tragedy), Dangerously Garish Environment (when the pleasantness of a location hides underlying terrors even if no unpleasant scenario is happening), and A World Half Full (when a cynic, gritty setting still harbors snippets of hope). Contrast Empathic Environment.

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Examples of unpleasant scenarios with pleasant scenery:

  • The setting of Biggie Bear is the titular character's garden, a sunny field with fresh green grass. What does he do there? Murder, drug pushing, and rape.

  • The painting Ophelia (Millais) depicts the death of Ophelia, from Hamlet, occurring by a lovingly-depicted flower-bedecked riverbank.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Many of the witches' labyrinths look as if they came from Wonderland — they are collages of vibrant, bizarre, colorful elements. Some of the minions even go around singing and dancing. As a result, everything fits surreal and out of place (in a good sense) whenever an unsuspecting or mind-controlled civilian gets trapped or a magical girl goes hunting the witch and its minions down. It's made worse after The Reveal that the witches are the corrupted versions of magical girls that fell into despair or ran out of magic and that the labyrinths are depictions of their broken mindscapes and unfulfilled wishes.
  • Violet Evergarden employs this trope as a way to convey grieving and the feeling of having lost life's meaning. The eponymous protagonist has just recovered from a very traumatic battle where she lost her arms and her beloved superior. When she awakes, the war has come to an end and both the landscapes surrounding her and the town she now lives in are too idyllic and peaceful for an ex-soldier who was never allowed to experience any feelings and is deep in mourning. The trope is subverted as she heals.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Ant-Man: Nearing the climax, Ant-Man and Yellowjacket miniaturize and have a grand, epic fight with killer ants and ray lasers in a little girl's room. Not only that but for a rather long while, they engage in a toy setup of Thomas the Tank Engine (watch it here). As Thomas is about to collide with Yellowjacket, the camera suddenly cuts to the actual scale, and the dramatic train collision becomes a very anti-climatic scene of a toy train falling off its tracks and basically doing no harm to the villain.
  • Barbarian: The flashback shows Barbary Street to have been quite a bright, colorful suburbs rich in 80s aesthetic. Heavily contrasting the act of Frank posing as a maintenance worker to unlock innocent women's windows to kidnap and rape them in his dungeon.
  • In In Bruges, the beauty of the titular city is a plot point. Almost all the main characters die. Some of them very gorily.
  • A lot of the ultraviolence in A Clockwork Orange takes place in picturesque surroundings: the abandoned casino, the writer's modernist house, the cat lady's art gallery...
  • The Movie Adaptation of First Blood was filmed in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with sweeping Mountain vistas. All while a traumatized Vietnam Veteran is being pursued by a sadistic cop.
  • Greyhound: As the wolfpack attacks the convoy in force on the first night, the camera zooms out over the entire battle until it's over the cloud layer and we see the aurora borealis hanging quietly over the carnage below. It's one of the more haunting scenes in the movie.
  • Jaws 2 Includes the killing of happy waterskiing youths and bikini babes at a sunlit beach-also included in the poster.
  • Midsommar: Pelle makes sure they drive directly from the airport to the village (which is surrounded by beautiful fields) without passing any big cities in between (much to Mark's dismay). Later Played for Horror as the idyllic fields hide some violent customs.
  • In Red Dawn (1984) we are treated to many gorgeous vistas of the New Mexico Rockies and high plains, while the Soviet Union invades. Plus the scene where Toni and Robert are killed by the helicopters is filmed at the iconic Ghost Ranch.
  • The movie The Rundown mostly takes place in beautiful South American jungles, contrasted with a brutally oppressed town and a lot of fast-paced gun violence...and some horny monkeys.
  • Star Wars:
    • In Revenge of the Sith, the execution of Aayla Secura takes place in a lush colorful alien jungle (viewable here).
    • Rogue One has the tropical beach planet Scarif, which becomes the site of a particularly brutal battle before being nuked by the Death Star.
    • Bespin, from The Empire Strikes Back, is a rather beautiful gas giant with a floating city that goes to hell when The Empire shows up.
  • In Sweet Country, a black farmhand who killed a white landowner in self-defense is hunted through the wilderness of the Australian outback. The beautiful landscapes are contrasted with the violent and sordid human events.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: Thor's first confrontation with Hela occurs in a pleasant Norwegian meadow overlooking the sea.
  • Thunderheart: Gorgeous, picturesque views of the High Plains and the Badlands National Park are where the homes of brutally oppressed people living in squalor and poverty are located.
  • Winter's Bone is a chain of horrible events set in beautiful, snowy forest environments.

  • Most of The Cabin at the End of the World takes place during the day. This begins with two dads and their little girl going off to relax at a cabin but being subjected to a home invasion by four strangers. The latter try to force the family to a Sadistic Choice: allow one of their own to be sacrificed, or else the world will end. The girl is killed by accident, among other terrible things.
  • The nineteenth-century novel Lady Audley's Secret invokes this trope by specifically stating that though we might think of the English countryside as idyllic and pastoral, there are as many gruesome murders committed there as there are in the city.
  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: Growltiger is ambushed and assassinated while wooing a lady under the moonlight of a peaceful summer night.
    Now on a peaceful summer night, all nature seemed at play,
    The tender moon was shining bright, the barge at Molesey lay.
    All in the balmy moonlight it lay rocking on the tide—
    And Growltiger was disposed to show his sentimental side.
  • This is brought up in The Lightning Thief. When his mother apparently dies, Percy reflects that it doesn't seem fair for the weather to be so nice and the scenery so idyllic. He feels like everything should be cold and grey.
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs: In the Marie route, Leon is told devastating news while in an air bike race where, naturally, everyone else is cheering.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Carnivàle is about the crew of a traveling carnival suddenly trapped in a surrealistic fight between good and evil which often results in horrifying violence. Occasionally, the violence has the carnival as a background — with people having fun, warm illumination, appetizing snacks, and scenic landscapes.
  • 19 Kids and Counting: In one of the episodes, Jill is calmly playing the harp whilst being interviewed. Two seconds later, a blood-curdling scream and a smack can be heard — Jason has just fallen 12 feet into an orchestra pit.
  • Squid Game: The games take place in brightly coloured sets inspired by playgrounds. Meanwhile the people playing are killed violently for losing, either as a consequence or as part of the game.

  • The Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song "Where the Wild Roses Grow" is a murder ballad set in a very pretty environment. The video is a nice supplement.

    Tabletop Games 

  • Blue Remembered Hills takes place in the relatively calm and peaceful English countryside — specifically an (apparently) deserted farm and the surrounding woodland. The trope is averted when it's just the kids playing and pondering about life, but it causes a very prominent Mood Whiplash during the traumatic fire scene where one of the kids dies burned.

    Video Games 
  • Dead Rising juxtaposes its gruesome zombie story by setting it inside a colorful Colorado shopping mall complete with mall muzak playing on the loudspeakers while Frank is fending off the undead. The sequel does something similar, but instead sets itself within a bright Vegas-style casino resort, though Fortune City does contain two mini-mall areas.
  • Common in the Ecco the Dolphin series. Plenty of the scenery is pleasant, but the games are clearly quite dark.
  • Etrian Odyssey:
    • The series has lush, beautiful scenery, with an emphasis on forests, in many of the games. These games also make up some of the hardest games produced by Atlus, a company already known for Nintendo Hard games, with difficult enemy encounters attacking you in these lush woodlands from the get-go and horrific Roaming Enemies called FOEs that will completely destroy an unprepared party. Also, in the first game, some of these woods were built on top of the ruins of a modern Japanese city and are the byproduct of a gigantic World Tree that was built to bring the world back to a livable state after a global apocalypse destroyed it.
    • Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City: One sidequest has you going out to investigate a campsite in the Waterfall Wood, one of the aforementioned forests and which has many lovely waterways. Upon arriving at the campsite, you witness the bloody aftermath of some sort of battle that look place here, implying that the occupants were killed horribly. Somewhat downplayed when you return to the pub to report on your findings, as the group is alive and well there and the reality is that they caused the carnage in self-defense when some hostile monsters interrupted them in the middle of their sleep.
  • EVERSPACE: The spacescapes the player flies through are truly a sight to behold. Too bad they are the locations of a hellish war that leaves shipwrecks, shattered planets, and brutal spaces battles.
  • Hell looks like a pink and green crystalline palace in Final Fantasy II.
  • The scenery in The Forest is quite beautiful. It provides a nice distraction from the fact that you're the sole survivor of a plane crash, perpetually defending yourself against roaming bands of mutant cannibals while searching for your kidnapped son.
  • Grim Dawn: The Astral Fields have some of the most mystically beautiful landscapes in the entire game — lust exotic forests filled with bright colors and a cosmic field in the background. They are also the home of the horrors that mercilessly attack the player.
  • Also in Knights of the Old Republic, Manaan. Beautiful water world. Bad things happen. And Taris, too; the whole planet gets bombed eventually.
  • The final battle of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes place in a idyllic field of snow white flowers, and ends with Naked Snake being forced to kill his beloved mentor.

    Visual Novels 

  • In Niels, one scene has Niels quietly enjoying a beautiful sunset...while two cops slowly drown under the dock he sits on.

    Real Life 
  • The September 11 attacks took place during an unseasonably warm and sunny Tuesday in many parts of the US. Numerous articles about the tragedy have discussed the contrast between the glorious late summer day and the carnage that unfolded. The attack itself took place between 8:46 and 10:28 AM.
  • The Oklahoma City Bombing on the morning of April 19, 1995 that killed 168 people and remains the worst domestic homegrown terror attack in US history.
  • World War II:
    • Pearl Harbor. A peaceful December morning in 1941, with the Pacific on one side and lovely tropical Oahu on the other. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Japanese fighter planes and bombers attack, sinking over a dozen ships and killing 2,402 Americans.
    • Likewise, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 1945. At 8:15 AM in Hiroshima, the first uranium bomb was dropped here; some 70,000–80,000 people, of whom 20,000 were soldiers, or around 30% of the population of Hiroshima, were killed by the blast and resultant firestorm, and another 70,000 injured. At 11:01 AM, August 9, 1945, Nagasaki was similarly destroyed.
  • School shootings take place either during the morning or early afternoon, pretty much by definition; otherwise, there's rarely anyone there.
  • Jonestown. While the cult massacre that occurred there did not happen until dusk, the preceding events of the day — including the assassination of Rep. Leo Ryan (D-CA) — fit this trope to a T. A Jonestown survivor even unwittingly describes this trope in a documentary interview:
    Stanley Clayton: It was a bright, sunny day. But it was a dark day. It just didn't feel right.

Examples of pleasant scenarios with unpleasant scenery:

    Anime and Manga 
  • One Piece: Near the end of the Dressrosa arc, the battle of Dressrosa is over, and the kingdom is in ruins. Yet, by the next day, the citizens are happily resuming their lives and rebuilding the city, and even throw a small celebration over the heroes (our protagonist group) who saved the country from being utterly destroyed.

    Comic Books 
  • In the fifth issue of Crossed +100, Beauregard Salt goes to a cafe the Crossed team is brutally attacking. He merely comments about the day's paper warning that "the business with the banks is getting serious". When the carnage intensifies, he takes his sweet time grabbing a coffee and a danish.

  • Rebuild World has this trope as its hallmark.
    • Alpha, the AI helper of the main character, either wears fancy outfits or goes nude in places like slums or war-ravaged landscapes. Her excuse is that she draws everyone's attention so they know they can interface with the old-world domain through her. And that it's training to prevent the protagonist from falling into a Honey Trap.
    • Shiori, one of the maids of the rich heiress Raina, sets up a room to look like a luxury restaurant in the middle of a ruined warzone. It's noted that it would invite scorn from other hunters if they saw it.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-228 is a photograph that randomly changes images when it is not observed. Foundation scientists often use it to verify a person's personality and psychological profile. One of the pictures shows a trio of teenage girls giving smiles and V Signs to the camera as a car burns behind them.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • The episode "Little Big Girl" has Bart and Darcy having The Big Damn Kiss at a drive-in theater. In the background of said kiss, we see a teenager in a varsity jacket being violently chainsawed by his psychiatrist under a red filter.
    • Invoked by Homer in "Mommie Beerest". When Lenny and Carl are about to suggest that Marge likes Moe more than Homer, Homer asks if he can learn the sad truth "at a happy place". The trio then discusses the situation while riding a log flume ride at Itchy and Scratchy Land.

    Real Life 
  • There is a tale about an art competition where the participants are asked to produce a painting about the concept of peace. Most of them, naturally, submit artworks depicting idyllic sceneries from lust forests to mirror-like lakes. The winner's, however, is the opposite — a raging storm in a barren crevice. The public asks, "how is this even about peace?". The judges answer that, if you look carefully, you'll notice a little, beautiful bird resting in its nest inside the crevice. Peace is about remaining calm even when surrounded by chaos.
  • Olympic Venues are often built in places that maximize scenery for the Television and live viewing audiences, particularly the Winter Olympics which are in mountainous areas. However, for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics the Big Air competition was held on the site of a former enormous steel mill with the cooling towers right next to the venue in plain sight of the TV cameras.

Other types of mood-clashing scenery:

    Fan Works 

    Video Games 
  • Gunlord: In the "Neo Geo" and "Dreamcast" versions, after going through two Eternal Engine levels, the final boss is fought in a rather out-of-place, plain-looking church. The background was changed in "X" to a more colorful lair in space.