MeaningfulLook Meaningful Look YKTTW Discussion

Meaningful Look
Characters exchange a look to communicate without words
Needs Examples
(permanent link) added: 2013-04-10 06:52:49 sponsor: XFllo edited by: Melkior (last reply: 2013-05-09 06:59:14)

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Attention: This is an already launched trope, but it badly needs more examples. It did not run through YKTTW when it was launched, so please comment all you can regarding the description, indexes, related tropes etc.
The Meaningful Look is a staple of drama in all visual arts, and is often used in comedy as well. From the regretful smile of The Hero who is about to make the Ultimate Sacrifice to the wink of the captured rogue to signal his hidden rescuers, much can be said without words. It can indicate a secret, a character knowing more than they let on, or the scene may involve a person in front of whom the character cannot talk openly.

The Meaningful Look can be used by the author of a visual work to communicate a message to the audience rather than to a character, but if the look is Breaking the Fourth Wall, that's an Aside Glance.

In summary, there are two types of Meaningful Look:
1. Between characters, in-universe.
2. Author to audience, via a character but without Breaking the Fourth Wall.

Because facial expressions are used as a part of communication all the time, this trope is only for examples where the look is used as a substitute for speech or the look conveys a fairly specific message.

Related to Facial Dialogue, which is about whole conversations happening silently through expression or characters normally or habitually communicating this way, but Meaningful Look is a single look only. In deciding whether or not to place an example here, consider whether or not the character(s) normally or habitually communicate by Meaningful Looks. If they do, the example probably belongs in Facial Dialogue instead of here.

The Meaningful Look is a supertrope to the Traitor Shot, Held Gaze, Longing Look and Disapproving Look.




  • A to-the-audience example occurs in the ElfQuest story, Kings Of The Broken Wheel when Ember is about to hit her brother, Suntop, for blatantly insulting her (see page image). She then realises he did it because he's in severe distress and drops her hand (was a fist). The look she gives her brother, combining realisation, pity and concern, is seen only by the reader (Suntop is looking the other way at the time) and so is obviously meant to convey to the reader not only the message that Ember loves her brother but also that this is a stage in her advancing maturity and developing personality.

[[folder:Film - Live Action]]
  • Pride and Prejudice (2005): When Miss Darcy meets Elizabeth for the first time at Pemberley, she gives her and her brother Mr Darcy a knowing look. It's implied that Miss Darcy knows that he's in love with her, and wonders what Elizabeth's feelings are.
  • The Newman / Redford classic The Sting has each con man arriving in Chicago casually flick his nose with his right index finger to signal that he's "in" on the plan to fleece Doyle Lonnegan.
  • True Lies features maverick agent Harry Tasker piloting a Harrier jet. His daughter is clinging to the nose cone (an improvised rescue) while the Big Bad stands on one wing with a pointed firearm. Harry rolls his eyes to his right as a signal to his daughter that he's going to roll the jet. The girl is ready for this move, and doesn't fall off; the Big Bad misses the signal and topples off the edge.

  • The little girls in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's novels often give each other such looks, demonstrating the almost-ESP said girls experience when together. Ivy and Martha do this a few times in Literature/The Changeling, usually over the real-world confirmation of an element in their imaginary games. In The Egypt Game, April and Melanie look at each other this way when something strikes them as particularly appropriate for Egypt. Toby grouses that it's "like they have Siamese brains or something". When Pomma and Teera in the Green-Sky Trilogy do this, sometimes they actually are communicating telepathically.
  • Emma by Jane Austen:
    • During the dinner party at the Coles, Frank Churchill casts a long look at Miss Fairfax. When Emma notices, he says Miss Fairfax has a strange hairdo and that he couldn't help himself and had to stare. However, it was a loving and longing look. They are secretly engaged.
    • Mr Knightley noticed significant glances which Frank Churchill directed at Miss Fairfax while he dined with them and Emma was not present. He thought the looks were inappropriate because Frank Churchill seemed to court Emma. Mr Knightley is the only one who correctly suspected that Franck Churchill and Jane Fairfax share a relationship.
  • Pride and Prejudice: Mr Darcy frequently fixes his eyes on Elizabeth. She notices that he does that but concludes it's only because he thinks something is wrong or improper about her. Later in the story, Charlotte also notices Mr Darcy often gazes at Elizabeth. She thinks and hopes it could mean he admires her, but she also thinks it could only be that he's absent-minded.
  • In The Handmaid's Tale, when Offred pairs up with Ofglen on her errands to the market, there's a moment where the two exchange a quiet knowing look through their reflections on a shop window, where they first mutually communicate to each other that they are both dissenters to the theocratic order. This is seen poignantly in the film as well.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Captain Picard uses this explicitly to communicate his intentions to his crew on at least one occasion when he does not want an alien species to know what is about to happen.
  • In Game of Thrones, Renly Baratheon shares a lingering look with his secret lover Loras at the Hand of the King's tourney, the first indication the viewer receives that there's a relationship.
  • The X-Files, "Grotesque": Agent Mulder is sinking into darkness and madness when he's investigating a particularly difficult case with a copycat serial killer. His supervisor Skinner asks his partner how he deals.
    Skinner: Are you worried about him, Agent Scully?
    Scully: No, sir.
    Skinner: Off the record.
    (Scully doesn't answer. She just cocks her head and looks extremely sad.)
    Skinner: So am I.
  • Horatio Hornblower, second instalment "Mutiny" and "Retribution": Many characters exchange significant looks when they cannot say what they would like to. Usually it's because they are in front of their superiors and they cannot talk freely.
    • Lieutenants and best pals Horatio Hornblower and Archie Kennedy exchange lots of Meaningful Looks which express their dissatisfaction and disgust with the situation on their ship, commanded by paranoid and mentally unstable captain. They understand each other without words.
    • Styles and Matthews, most prominent lower deck characters, share a worried look when Captain Sawyer assigns Hornblower to serve 36 hours of continuous watch, and reminds him that when an officer is found asleep on watch, it means a death sentence.
    • Hornblower signals to 1st Lt. Buckland that he shouldn't interfere with Captain Sawyer and that he should carry out his order to arrest all the other lieutenants.
    • In the second part, "Retribution", Lt. Bush joins Hornblower and Kennedy in the fun. They start trading the looks which express their annoyance with Acting Captain Buckland's incompetence and lack of commanding abilities.
    • Their Spanish adversaries and prisoners, Senor and Senora Ortega share a look after they were forced to the unconditional surrender. We later find out its meaning. He wanted her to pull The Vamp and Femme Fatale. She pretended she was interested in having sex and killed one stupid Red Shirt, and the Spanish prisoners took over the ship.

[[folder:Web Comics]]
  • Invoked by name in Homestuck.
    SOLLUX: yes they will! they just t0ld me.
    VRISKA: I d8dn't hear them say shit!
    SOLLUX: they b0th gave me meaningful glances!
    SOLLUX: like as if t0 say, aw yeah, let's b0unce.
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