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He's human. But he might as well be a robot, or wearing a mask, for all the emotions that his face shows.
Nerve damage or scars
prevent him from showing any expression. Nothing, from abject terror to astounded delight to overwhelming fury to soul-shaking grief, can change his face. (Tears may be possible.)
May make him appear as The Stoic
, the Tin Man
, or the Perpetual Frowner
, but appearances are deceiving. Invariably deeply traumatized — after all, he got the scars somewhere. Ironically enough, the more visible the scars are, the less likely people are to assume the lack of facial expression means no feelings. (They have other problems, but they do undermine that assumption.)
Sometimes an advantage, even for the same characters, when they do not reveal emotions they do not want to.
May be a result of surgery — usually cosmetic surgery. Which is Always Female
, and she gets no sympathy. Then, given the vanity
she is depicted with, she doesn't want any.
Compare Feel No Pain
, often also nerve damage, and Unable to Cry
. Sometimes (but definitely not always) can overlap with Dull Surprise
. Contrast Perpetual Expression
, when the face just looks like this, but there isn't a reason for it not to move.
Please note, many animated shows will feature characters who appear paralyzed but for their mouth movements. This is caused by reducing frames due to low budgets, and is not the same thing.
open/close all folders
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex's second season, Hideo Kuze has a beautifully sculpted artificial face. Which can't move. His mouth doesn't even move when he talks. It's suggested that the face's actual movement is just extremely limited and it takes enormous effort to speak normally, so on the two occasions Kuze does open his mouth, everyone knows it's serious. His reasoning is, that only an inanimate face can always display perfect beauty and emotions would distort its perfection (with a subtle implication he was inspired by The Major's face when they met as children).
- There's a similar moment in the first season, when a man has his brain installed in a tank he helped to create - when Section 9 immobilize him, he soon starts moving again after seeing his parents, but this time entirely without the engine noise, implying that he's moving on the force of will alone. He also gets his brain fried because there's no way to tell his intentions as he's suddenly approaching them, and may or may not have been trying to kill them.
- Yin from Darker Than Black. When she does smile, she does it by pulling the corners of her mouth up with her fingers (see here◊).
- Oddly enough, she makes it cute. However, the same cannot be said for the similarly expressionless cute little boy July's attempts at smiling.
- Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist is trapped inside a highly intimidating suit of armor with a menacing countenance, a rather inappropriate appearance for a shy, sensitive, sweet boy like him. Only when the show's art goes Super-Deformed can he truly express himself.
- Kyubey from Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Same cute (bordering on creepy at some points) expression even with the horrible things happening to the heroines, apparently not changing even when Kyubey himself is shot full of holes. This is likely the first sign that fans took not to trust him. Some of the DVD releases have been reanimated to make him even less expressive. However, Kyubey has facial expressions in the manga.
- In Kotoura-san, Dai'chi's weird fish-lips + Scary Shiny Glasses combo seems to be a sort of poker-face he guards himself with instinctively. As the series goes on, it becomes clear that he's just naturally reserved like that.
- The Joker is often depicted with a hideously permanent grin on his face. Depending on the Artist. There's been a number of artists who've shown the Joker as capable of showing other expressions on his face.
- Two-Face is a partial version. The "good" side can show emotions, but the burnt half will always remain... burnt and immobile.
- In The Dark Knight, you can see the muscles in the burnt half of Two-Face's face moving, and it seems like its at least trying to convey emotion the same as the in-tact half, but that side lacks the expressive parts of the face like lips and eyebrows for said muscles to actually move around, so the end result is still this trope. The same film also gives The Joker an apparently normal range of facial expressions, and represents his trademark "grin" in a wholly different and more realistic fashion that makes him even more terrifying.
- The DCAU averts this in both cases. The Joker is extremely expressive; his usual smile is all crazy rather than paralysis. Two-Face's bad side is distorted by the scars but still mobile, giving it the impression of a perpetual Wild Take.
- A frozen grin on the corpse's face is the trademark effect of Joker Venom, dating all the way back to the Joker's first appearance. In some cases, the venom even does it to living people that have recovered from the venom's effects, for that extra bit of horror.
- In IDW's Transformers: Infiltration, the Autobots' holomatter avatars all had grins fixed on their faces. Fortunately, their human friends were able to clue them in what human expressions look like.
- This trope is used to trick the reader (and the Joes) in an issue of GI Joe Special Missions: There's a hostage situation, but the man who appears grinning during the whole story, and assumed to be one of the kidnappers, is really a hostage whose face is frozen as a grin.
- In V for Vendetta, V's mask, though a few subtle changes were occasionally drawn in.
- Joan Rivers on that Geico commercial, in a Self Parody: "Am I smiling? I can't tell, Steve, I can't tell!"
- Robocop, while unmasked.
- Dr. Phibes must wear a mask of his face to hide his disfigurement.
- Terminator: Throughout all of the original movie, played with in Judgment Day (when a young John Connor attempts to teach a Terminator how to smile, a lesson that sinks in when the Terminator gets his hands on Sarah's gun cache) and so on.
- The Venusian queen from the B-Movie Queen of Outer Space.
- The William Castle film Mr. Sardonicus ("The Only Picture With the Punishment Poll") runs on this trope: it is the villain's defining characteristic (see the page pic), prime motivation, and preferred method of torture.
- In Dan Abnett's Xenos, when Eisenhorn is tortured by a Chaos cult, the torture is fed up with Eisenhorn's grinning back at him in defiance and applies a nerve-severing device, declaring that Eisenhorn will never smile again, and indeed the nerve damage done is irreparable, even with the best Imperial medical technology. When a fellow Inquisitor reveals that he knows who a codename refers to, the shocked Eisenhorn is glad it will not show on his face. On the other hand, when he meets a friend again, he is distressed that his happiness does not show so easily.
- The Man Who Laughs has Gwynplaine, who was the inspiration for the Joker above, can't do anything but smile in a rather hideous way thanks to scarring.
- Boris Akunin's novel The Quest has such a character in the main cast. He was a WWI German soldier and had his face burned off by a flamethrower. His face is terribly scarred and unable to show emotion. He wears a mask that looks like a human face to look less hideous... but he never can show emotions on his face. on the other hand, he has several masks with different faces and can change them... so this is a mundane kind of Disability Superpower.
- Richard Henry Benson underwent emotional trauma so great after the loss of his wife and child that his facial muscles were paralyzed and he lost all skin and hair color. His reaction to this led to him becoming the Pulp Magazine hero known as The Avenger.
- Sergeant Hyde (from The Zone World War III series by James Rouch) had his face burnt off by the jet of hot metal from an anti-tank round. Comes in handy when playing poker.
- In Nick Kyme's Warhammer 40,000 novel Salamander, Iagon perpetually sneers because his face was burned by acid, damaging muscle.
- In Mike Lee's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Fallen Angels, nerve damage inflicted by glass splinters has turned Stenius's face into "a grim, inscrutable mask."
- Aaron Demski Bowden's Night Lords novel Soul Hunter introduces The Exalted, former capitan of the VIII legion's 10th company, now possessed by a daemon of Tzeentch for many thousands of years. The constant Warp-induced mutations of its skull structure have left it incapable of anything but a rather painful looking grimace. Admittedly having More Teeth than the Osmond Family doesn't help either.
- Lygris the Techmarine in Ben Counter's Soul Drinkers.
- In Chris Roberson's Imperial Fists novel Sons of Dorn, Rhomec's scars give him a perpetual grin. It's explicitly said that it makes it hard to read his emotions.
- In The Kite Runner, Ali's facial muscles are paralyzed, rendering him perpetually expressionless.
Live Action TV
- Patsy in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous, where she gets "Parallox" injections:
Patsy: I'm happy about that, can't you tell?
Patsy: Money well spent.
- An episode of Boston Legal had a little girl who was like this. She had been refused a place at a private school because she couldn't smile, and our valiant (anti) heroes are called in to help.
- Jordan Sullivan on Scrubs, for one episode, as a result of botox. Dr. Cox, of course, decides to poke fun at it:
It's not that bad. Dr. Cox:
Really? Show me happy. [no change in Jordan's expression] Dr. Cox:
Sad. [no change in Jordan's expression] Dr. Cox:
Silly. [no change in Jordan's expression] Dr. Cox:Amused. Bemused. C-mused. [no change in Jordan's expression] Dr. Cox: Show me angry. [Jordan delivers a Groin Attack] Dr. Cox [in falsetto]:
Ooooh! Got angry down!
- And later when Turk runs into her:
"The pain is excruciating!" (same expression)
- An episode of Will and Grace involves Will and Karen getting botox, and lampshading this trope in song:
Karen: Grey skies are gonna clear up! Put on a happy face!
Will: I can't! Wipe off the clouds and cheer up! Put on a happy face!
Karen: I am!
- False Face (played by Malachi Throne) in the Batman 1960s series, although it was because he wore a latex, non-Expressive Mask.
- Candice Bergen's character, Enid, in Sex and the City.
- Brock in an episode of Reba got botox and had this.
- The Botox version caused some confusion for Cal Lightman in Lie to Me, because it made a woman seem like she was lying when she wasn't. In her case, though she's not highly sympathetic, she's not un-sympathetic either.
- In Prickly City, Winslow talks about how he feels, deadpan, and Carmen tells him he has to lay off the botox.
- Through the majority of Nedroid, Reginald never closes his beak.
- In Kid Radd, Dr. Amp is a NPC character whose sprite is locked in a perpetual smiling expression.
Radd: You know, it's tough to take your moody recollections seriously when that goofy grin never leaves your face.
Dr. Amp: I'm scowling at you on the inside.
- Much like Kyubey above, Luzi of Opening Move has a frozen "cute" expression, repeatedly described by the protagonist as a 'flat rabbit face'.
- Played with in Avatar: The Last Airbender. About half of Zuko's face is covered in burn scars, giving him a permanent glare on one side of his face, while the other side is normal (though usually glaring as well). It also has been shown to limit how wide his left eye can open. At best it can widen half as much as the other eye. This can be overcome by the rest of his face, but it still can make it look like he's glaring.
- Played for laughs in an episode of American Dragon Jake Long when Spud tries his best to make the son of a prominent restaurant critic laugh while working at his mother's restaurant, and is horrified when the kid literally doesn't bat an eyelash at his antics. He finds out the next day that the kid had just come from the dentist and his facial muscles were numbed up so he couldn't smile, but he told his dad (the critic) that he had had "the best day ever", which got Spud's restaurant a glowing review.
- In The Problem Solverz episode "Funny Facez", Buddy Huxton has this. It's explained that whenever someone is startled while making a funny face, their face will permanently freeze that way.
- The botox variation also happens to Francine in an episode of American Dad!.
- The Sponge Bob Square Pants episode "Face Freeze!" centered around this.
- Hexadecimal from Reboot gives an odd variant on this one. Her face is locked in a permanent, unmoving expression, but she has many faces to choose from and can swap them at will with a wave of her hand.
Truth In Television
- There is a genetic disorder called Mobius Syndrome, which can cause paralysis of the facial muscles needed to smile, as well as those used to move the tongue and eyes. The condition can be fixed to varying degrees, though some choose not to.
- And unlike the trope, since they were born that way, they may feel absolutely no angst about it whatsoever.
- Japanese actor and director "Beat" Takeshi Kitano sustained nerve damage to his face following a motorcycle accident. His impassive gaze has become a trademark of his performances.
- People with part of their face paralyzed often are seen as having frozen faces. Because only part of their face emotes, they are accused of not emoting even when they try.
- People who have had heavy or frequent botox treatments, since the same toxins that reduce wrinkles also paralyze the face muscles. (Hence Joan Rivers' self parody.)
- Humphrey Bogart's trademark voice and deadpan expression were both the result of facial nerve damage sustained in World War One.
- Similarly, Sylvester Stallone's unique voice is the result of a clamp severing a facial nerve during Stallone's birth.
- Meet Sober Sue, whose employer evoked her frozen face as part of a scam. He offered a prize of $100 dollars (in 1907 money) to anyone who could make her laugh, which of course would never happen. The idea was to lure in top-ranking comedians and get them to perform for free.