Since roughly 2012, the internet’s Mandela Effect has led to a grave injustice. No, we’re not talking about Sinbad’s kids begging people to crack open the IMDB and confirm that their dad did not star in a movie called Shazam. Nor are we wading into the parallel universe of the Berenstain Bears. Rather, we’re once again here to remind you that the bearded man from the nod of approval meme is not Hangover-star Zach Galifianakis. It’s Robert Redford.
As nice as it must be for Galifianakis to be repeatedly mistaken for Redford, the issue could be attributed to a lack of movie stars with long hair, rosy cheeks, and beards. But even today, some 50 years after the meme’s source was released, people still think that the meme is of Galifianakis. We want to set the record straight for the last time.
The meme comes from the 1972 film Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford and directed by Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, The Firm). In it, Redford plays a mountain man named Jeremiah Johnson, who moves into the woods and must prove himself to the Crow Native American tribe. This is not an obscure movie or anything. It was based, in part, on a real person—a New Jersey native named John “Liver-Eating” Johnson. His history is horrific. After the real-life Johnson’s wife was allegedly murdered by Crow tribal members, he reportedly went on a murderous revenge spree against the tribe. He was also supposed to have eaten the livers of his victims (hence the name) and ate the leg of a prison guard that was holding him captive. Johnson eventually made peace with the tribe and died in 1900. 70 years later, after the movie’s release and success, Johnson’s remains in California were dug up and moved to Wyoming, where they gave him a statue. It’s a truly American story in the worst way.
Anyway, back to the meme. The mistake isn’t hard to understand. Galifianakis’ look in his 2009 breakout The Hangover is very similar to Johnson’s. He’s got the beard and the hair, and of course, there’s that scene in Johnson where the mountain man, occasionally referred to as “Liver-Eating,” wears a baby harness on his chest and puts sunglasses on the baby. We kid. In fact, it was in the midst of America’s brief spell of Hangover-fever, when we demanded a whole trilogy of movies about “the Wolfpack,” that the GIF started popping up.
Look, we know to some, like the “extremely online” set, this is old news. Others might remember a few years ago, the last time this revelation made the rounds. But it clearly wasn’t enough. So happy birthday, Robert Redford. On this day, we give back to you, the one true nod of approval.
Correction: An earlier version of this article featured a misspelling of Zach Galifianakis’ name. We regret the error.