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Meaningful Look

She's angry at him. He was already hurting. She realises and that look tells us she understands.

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.

There are two types of Meaningful Look: Between characters, in-universe. Or from author to the 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 or whether an entire conversation is being held by looks only. If either is true, 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.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • 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.

    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.
  • X-Men:
    • X-Men: First Class: Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr exchange numerous glances throughout the movie, which are indicative of their closeness.
    • X-Men: Days of Future Past:
      • Kitty Pryde and Bobby Drake share one as they cross paths during their battle against the Sentinels, and this may allude to them being in a relationship.
      • Mystique, disguised as a colonel, winks at Alex in a reassuring manner which says, "Don't worry, I'll get you out of this." Alex is unaware that the colonel is his former friend, though, so the wink confuses him.
      • Hank McCoy and Charles exchange an amused "Why am I not surprised?" glance (the former even adds a raised eyebrow) after Peter Maximoff asks them, "I saw your flight plan in the cockpit; why are you going to Paris?"

    Literature 
  • 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.

    Live Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Lord Renly Baratheon shares a lingering look with his secret lover, Ser Loras Tyrell, at the Tourney of the Hand. It is the first indication the viewer receives that there's a romantic relationship between the two men.
    • King Renly Baratheon and Ser Loras Tyrell exchange a glance when Brienne of Tarth asks to become one of Renly's Kingsguards. As Renly considers her request, Loras' expression basically reads, "Tell her no." Renly decides to disregard this silent plea, much to Loras' irritation.
    • After Brienne is appointed to his Kingsguard, Renly winks at her as he applauds to further communicate his warmth and reassurance that he's on her side, regardless of his followers' unfavourable opinion.
    • When Joffrey summons Loras in "Valar Morghulis," the young knight quickly glances at Margaery as if to say, "Do I really have to do this?", and his sister's non-verbal reply is "You have to do your duty."
    • A look occurs between Margaery Tyrell and Loras in "Valar Dohaeris" after they witness Queen Cersei and King Joffrey's snarky discussion. The Tyrell siblings, who are Thicker Than Water and work as a Brother-Sister Team, are surprised that mother and son have used veiled insults against each other in front of their future in-laws.
    • In "Second Sons," Tyrion Lannister raises his glass in pity to Loras, and his eyes say, "You're next to get married." Loras, who is already quite frustrated from the day's events, sighs and turns his head away.
    • More is said without words than with over the course of Edmure and Roslin's wedding. With just their eyes, Catelyn says to Edmure: "Thanks for going through with this." Edmure says "Score!" when he gets a glimpse of his unexpectedly lovely young bride, and Walder says "Hah, look at what you missed out on!" to Robb once Roslin is unveiled.
    • Walder delivers the speech that will signal the massacre at the Red Wedding, Catelyn shares a look of fear with a smiling Roose Bolton, who even signals her to look beneath his sleeve. He's wearing armour, showing he's in on the impending betrayal.
    • After an entire season of Snark-to-Snark Combat; the look between Brienne and Jaime in Season 3 finale "Mhysa" speaks volumes.
  • 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 installment "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.
    • During one scene at the court, everybody looks silently at Gunner Hobbs. They believe that his testimony will be crucial and reveal what happens on the ship and who pushed the captain down the hatchway.
  • Murdoch Mysteries:
    • Dr. Emily Grace and constable George Crabtree are an established Beta Couple, though not officially engaged. When they're walking at the beach, a playboy Leslie Garland catches Emily's eyes and they share a long look. There seems to be an acute interest on both sides and clear attraction on Leslie's side. George doesn't notice because he's busy describing how he invented a new beach game (basically a flying disc).
    • In "Murdoch in the Ragtime", Emily Grace and George come to spend an evening in a bar and they meet Leslie Garland. Leslie and Emily attempt playing ragtime together on the piano. This time George notices them and he keeps looking at them, somewhat worried.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Klingons actually have their own word for this. Worf is explaining where his loyalty to General Martok comes from.
    Worf: You know that I was forced to fight the Jem'Hadar guards in the camp. Each day they would call me to the ring, and each day I would fight. But then there came a day when I... wavered.
    Sisko: You mean you didn't want to go back into the ring?
    Worf: No, I mean I considered letting them kill me. It seemed like the only way out. Just before I went into the ring, Martok turned to wish me success. And then he saw what I was planning, he saw it in my eyes. It was a moment of tova'dok.
    Sisko: Of what?
    Worf: There is no Human word for it. It is a moment of... clarity, between two warriors on a field of battle. Much is said without the need for words. In that moment, he knew what was in my mind. Once I realized that he saw my intention to give up I could no longer go through with it. I went back into the ring and fought once more. He had given me his warrior's heart. Perhaps it is something a Human cannot understand.

    Webcomics 
  • 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.
  • The Bully's Bully uses both Meaningful Looks and Facial Dialogue because it's a textless web comic.

Lull DestructionSilence TropesMime and Music-Only Cartoon
Magical EyeEye TropesMind-Control Eyes
Meaningful EchoDialogueMeaningless Meaningful Words
Marionette MotionBody LanguageMemetic Hand Gesture
Green EyesImageSource/Comic BooksEmphasize EVERYTHING

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