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Facial Dialogue

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"Never mind. Your face just broke the language barrier."
Delenn, Babylon 5

Facial Dialogue occurs when a character is communicating not just their emotional reactions or intense feelings, but entire reams of dialogue using nothing more than their facial expressions and without saying a single word. When two characters do this to each other, it results in entire paragraphs of byplay, all perfectly understandable to the audience despite the entire exchange being silent.

Used correctly, such scenes can be as good as, or even better, than those with actual spoken dialogue. The Kuleshov Effect is one key trick to use, as tight editing can turn the same expression into unlimited amounts of subtext.

Eye Take, Eyebrow Waggle, Eyelash Fluttering, Aside Glance, Fascinating Eyebrow, and Secret Message Wink may be used as part of the Facial Dialogue, but by themselves are only limited versions. Often the forte of The Silent Bob, The Voiceless, the Silent Snarker, and The Quiet One. Often featured in a No-Dialogue Episode. It is just as often used by characters who are perfectly capable of speaking, but just don't on this occasion, but in that case, you should consider whether or not it qualifies instead as a Meaningful Look. Contrast Nonverbal Miscommunication when it backfires.


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  • In this commercial from a Dutch internet provider — bonus points for covering the trope happening between real non-human animals (catsnote ) as well. At 12s-14s, there's a "Huh, what's happening?!" — "Sorry can't help it" dialogue between a cat and its human; then at 19s-21s there's, between two cats, a general jealous "I could kill you!" answered with a smug "Heh, heh"; then at 24s an "Oh, well, tough luck" expressed by the guy.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Baccano! has Chane, according to Claire. No one else can see it, but mostly they know better than to question him.
  • Gakuen Babysitters: Kotarou is The Quiet One among the toddlers, and rarely speaks full sentences even to his beloved big brother. Instead he tends to express himself through facial expressions, body language, and occasional one- or few-word exclamations.
  • A major theme in Death Parade is using nonverbal communicate to express feelings towards someone. Notable moments are:
    • Episode 1 features a couple who died after a man drove off of a cliff trying to look at his wife’s phone and confirm his suspicions of her infidelity. Later, while being judged in the afterlife, she turns away from her husband to coldly tell him she cheated on him and is pregnant with someone else’s child. We don’t see her face until the next episode, where she’s revealed to have tears in her eyes and a look of remorse on her face, implying she lied to protect his feelings.
    • The in-series book called Chavvot is about a boy trying to convey his feelings to a deaf girl.
    • Throughout the series, Decim finds himself unable to express his feelings towards his assistant. He finally manages to do it in the final episode, with a silent smile after remembering all the times she’s smiled in the past.
  • Akira Oono, the titular character of High Score Girl, relies almost entirely on facial expressions to communicate with others and never talks onscreen.
  • Kino's Journey has an excellent example in one episode of the 2003 anime: Kino is in the land of the people who drank nanomachines that transmitted every thought and feeling, and each eventually had to live apart from everyone. After the man telling the story finishes, Kino's pep talk causes him to realise something; he silently thanks her, and her expression clearly says, "You're welcome." She explains all this to Hermes to ensure the audience get the point too.
  • Takeo from Magic User's Club has literal facial dialogue at times, with his thoughts being written out on his face.

    Comic Books 
  • Batgirl (2000): Early on, expressions and body language were Cassandra Cain's only way to communicate since her father didn't think learning how to talk was one of the skills she needed to be the perfect assassin.
  • The "intra-couple communication stealth mode" (between Empowered and Thugboy). Subtitled for the reader's sake.
  • Peewee Friendly seems to communicate with his big brother Freckles by this means in the Richie Rich comics.
  • Duma, the Angel of Silence, speaks entire volumes with nothing but expressions in The Sandman (1989). Their gestures and actions also say (and accomplish!) volumes more than their partner, Remiel, despite his almost complete inability to shut the hell up.
  • Watchmen is famed for doing this as well as having dialogue, adding a lot of depth to characters. The most famous example is when Rorschach's landlord begs him not to reveal to her children that she is a prostitute — his silent response is fascinatingly difficult to decipher.

    Comic Strips 
  • Nodwick has apparently gotten so good at this that he can send fairly complex messages to Piffany from a distance based on how he grimaces.

    Fan Works 
  • In Amelia (TanaNari), both Minerva and Alexandria have Thinker powers that make them preternaturally good at reading facial expressions and body language and use this to have extended and progressively more flirtatious conversations either in silence or hidden under what they're saying out loud.
  • Much Ado About Shakespeare: Love's Labours Won: Friends and fellow officers Horatio Hornblower and Archie Kennedy bet drinks and dinner at the inn that Archie can/can't speak only in Shakespeare's quotes for 6 hours. When they are at the hat shop, Archie tries to tell Horatio what he thinks of various hats that Horatio's trying on in case he doesn't get the meaning from the quotes. This part of the fic is written like a script and these are some of the notes: [Archie stares at him meaningfully], [Archie raises an eyebrow] or [Looks sceptical].

    Films — Animation 
  • Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon cannot speak, but you can always get a pretty good idea of what he's thinking by reading his facial expressions. There are even a few scenes where Hiccup and Toothless seem to communicate with only this.
  • In the first Ice Age film, Diego has almost no dialogue during the scene where it's revealed that Manny lost his family to human hunters. But his facial expressions tell the audience exactly what he's feeling. Likewise, Sid takes Diego's advice and doesn't say a word, but the look on HIS face says it all, too.
  • The student film In a Heartbeat has no dialogue and so the characters communicate solely through Facial Dialogue.
  • In Moana, Te Fiti doesn't speak but she's still quite expressive. Best exemplified when Maui awkwardly asks "How ya been?" and she gives him a look that perfectly says "I spent the last thousand years as a raging lava monster because of you. How do you think I've been?"
  • Dopey, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, does this throughout the entire film. He does so because he is mute.
  • In Bambi the titular deer is silent through most of the movie, relying on facial expressions especially when he is a baby/toddler. Though he does eventually learn to speak he rarely does, even as an adult, because he is naturally shy and soft-spoken. Especially around girls.
  • Wallace & Gromit: Gromit. Although it's a necessity in his case, since he's mute, and he's a dog.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Animal House, a lot of Bluto Blutarsky's "dialogue" is this.
  • As It Is in Heaven, a Swedish film, wherein one scene two main characters have such a non-verbal conversation.
  • The Black Hole. V.I.N.CENT. can do this despite being a Tin-Can Robot with mock eyes, by raising (indicating surprise or pain) and lowering (usually Oh, Crap!) his top cover.
  • Blade Runner:
    • Roy and Priss share their confidences and opinions about J.F. Sebastian using a few seconds of eye contact.
    • Ryan Gosling uses this a lot in Blade Runner 2049, appropriately since his character is a Replicant. A particularly good example comes in his "conversation" with the giant pink hologram Joi. He never says a word during the scene, but his silent, stone-faced reaction to the advertisement woman calling him by the pet name his own "unique" copy of Joi used for him solidifies his desire to be more than just a machine, a desire he acts on by flying out to rescue Rick Deckard from Wallace's men.
  • In The Brothers Bloom, Bang-Bang has only two spoken lines of dialogue, comprised of only three entire words, and yet manages to be a complete Deadpan Snarker the entire film.
  • Some Silent Film stars mastered this out of necessity; e.g., Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, etc. The last scene of City Lights, in which a whole mix of emotions play out on Charlie's face when he meets the flower girl again — joy, relief, shame, fear — is a master class in this trope.
  • Those who, for whatever strange reason, doubt the incredible acting abilities of James Earl Jones should take note of an early scene in Conan the Barbarian where Jones as Thulsa Doom uses nothing but the power of his eyes and face to (quite convincingly) trick Conan's mother into thinking he's going to let her go.
  • Invoked in Fallen Angels where He Qiwu communicates largely through his facial expressions because he's mute. He acknowledges that while he isn't sure that he's able to say everything, especially to Charlie, he gets the feeling that he's generally understood.
  • In The Fugitive, a couple of meaningful looks between prisoners on the bus is all Richard Kimble needs to see to realize that they're about to make a violent escape attempt.
  • Fury (2014):
    • At least one scene is carried entirely based on facial expressions. Early in the movie, a small column of tanks are ambushed and the lead tank blown up by a trio of Hitler Youth (who look as though they're just hitting adolescence), and the main reason they were able to do it is because Norman, the New Meat gunner in the tank Fury saw them a few seconds before they fired but hesitated to shoot at them because he saw they were kids. After Norman's sergeant Wardaddy shoots and kills them, he gives the bodies a long look that shows that he clearly regrets and is saddened by the fact that he had to kill them... and then his face hardens as he puts on his hardass Sergeant Rock attitude and stalks back to the tank to chew out Norman for not having acted when he first saw the kids. The visible sadness and regret is one of the early hints that Wardaddy isn't as completely hardened and heartless as he tends to act.
    • In the battle against the Tiger tank, Norman's disbelieving and increasingly horrified reaction as he sees multiple shells simply bounce harmlessly off the Tiger's armor is told without any dialog, just resting on the ability of Logan Lerman's ability to convey it with his expressions.
  • Gone in 60 Seconds features one character, called "The Sphinx" by the other characters, making a phone call and using nothing but Facial Dialogue to do so. On the other end of the conversation, Memphis can't tell if anyone is actually on the line and asks Sphinx to hit a button on the phone to indicate if he's there.
  • Used to beautiful effect in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, particularly in the Mexican Standoff where an exchange of glances between Blondie and Tuco shows us that they agree to both shoot Angel Eyes.
  • John Cusack has a deep and profoundly spiritual conversation with a baby using nothing but expressions in Grosse Pointe Blank.
  • Akira Kurosawa was excellent at getting this out of Toshiro Mifune. A short scene in The Hidden Fortress had Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) giving "You go first!" "No, you!" looks to each other as they hesitate to confront General Makabe (played by Mifune).
  • In the teaser trailers (and posters for that matter) released for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Peeta doesn't speak a word, yet his face conveys that the hijacking is well in progress.
  • In the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Corrupt Corporate Executive Donovan and Dark Action Girl Elsa Schneider are searching for the Holy Grail in a roomful of ornate beweled cups. Elsa selects an especially spectacular one and hands it to Donovan. Her expression alone tells you she deliberately chose the wrong one. Meanwhile, on the sidelines, Indy and the Grail Knight have a silent conversation with only facial expressions that goes something like: "She knows that's not the real Grail. What happens when he drinks from the wrong Grail?" "I don't know, but I know it's not going to be pretty."
  • In Kung Fu Hustle, the landlady of Pigsty Alley pays a visit to Sum's car to give them a long-winded talking-to, which she does with much aplomb, and without speaking a single word out loud (though some of her dialogue comes from her hands, or rather, her fists. She doesn't punch anyone but she makes it clear that she has no qualms about doing so in future if necessary. She then sends the intruders off without inflicting any physical harm, but she's delivered a wordless ultimatum that was clearer-than-crystal.
  • Mathilda May's character in Lifeforce (1985) is a mostly silent (and always unclothed) space vampire. Many of her interactions with her intended victims are entirely done via facial expressions, the best examples being during the sequences where she escapes from the Research Center at the beginning of the movie: a devilish smirk when she spots a soon-to-be-a-shrivelled-corpse guard, a dismissive glance when she encounters the rest of the security forces in her way out that soon morphs into a sadistic grin and a death glare as she blasts them away without a second thought, just to name a few.
  • In the final scene of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Colonel Stone and his son, a junior officer exchange a handshake and a brief look that says volumes more than they've managed to win the whole movie preceding it.
  • The final scene of The Long Good Friday consists of Bob Hoskins sitting silently in the back of a car and slowly realizing that he is completely fucked.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road has a lot of this. There's very little dialogue in the film, and even the most important story and character moments are often communicated through facial dialogue. One example is seeing Max realize he has a chance to escape once Slit unlocks his chains on Nux's car. The seconds-long look that Furiosa gives Max, who she was trying very hard to kill half an hour ago when they're fleeing from Joe's forces and he wordlessly hands her a sniper rifle says more than a full page of dialogue could.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the elevator scene communicates Cap's thoughts and feelings with almost no dialogue, apart from a light exchange with Rumlow. He's not paying attention at first, even as Rumlow gets on the elevator informing mission control out loud that STRIKE team is on-site, but then he notices one of his fellow riders keeping his hand close to his gun and they're not making eye contact, and Cap has a moment of confusion. More riders get on, he exchanges with Rumlow, then he notices a businessman sweating nervously, and Cap's confusion grows, as do his suspicions that something's up. Finally, Jack Rollins and two burly STRIKE members board and ask for "Records", of all destinations, before taking positions to put Cap in the center of a crowd. Cap's face shows the suspicion and confusion change into understanding and determination, as he realizes what's about to unfold.
    • Done to very powerful effect in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to explain Drax's backstory and the pain he feels over his family being killed by Ronan the Accuser and Thanos. Even if you haven't seen the first movie, his backstory is immediately made clear without any words at all, when Mantis uses her powers to sense what he's feeling and immediately breaks down in tears, while Drax stares beatifically into the middle distance.
    • In Thor: Ragnarok when Thor and Loki come after Odin, Loki suddenly resorts to being The Quiet One. The only word he says from the moment he falls through the portal to the moment of Hela's arrival is "brother" after their father's death. Be it the looks of surprise and pained recognition when Odin welcomes his sons and later says that he loves them both, slightly shaking his head to tell "this isn't me" when asked to lift his magic, the "I don't know" look when Thor silently inquires about Hela, or the Meaningful Look between Loki and Thor when they decide to put aside their differences once their sister shows up, — his reactions are conveyed via facial expressions alone.
  • Hilariously subverted in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Jack tries to subtly get Gibbs to look at Will using facial dialogue. When that fails, his subsequent attempts become comically more overt while Gibbs remains oblivious.
  • Plan B uses a lot of this kind of dialogue to great effect, like Bruno's facial expressions when Pablo's not looking gradually changing from smug and conniving to confused and uncertain over time and Pablo smiling dreamily while clearly thinking of Bruno and then gazing guiltily at the ceiling while in bed with his girlfriend.
  • Serenity:
    • During the opening robbery, River and Zoe have a short conversation using nothing but facial expressions that goes something like, "That guy." "That guy? Are you sure?" "Who do you think you're talking to? Of course, I'm sure! That guy!"
    • Later, River responds to one of Simon's questions with a similar "Simon, don't be an idiot" glare.
  • sex, lies, and videotape: When Ann cleans her (and John's) bedroom, and finds her sister Cynthia's lost earring, her expression goes slowly from puzzlement, to realization, to fury. (Andie MacDowell is brilliant.)
  • Jake, the Plucky Comic Relief Sheriff's Deputy in Support Your Local Sheriff, does this a lot. It was one of the things Jack Elam, the actor playing Jake, was best k
  • In the climax of Wonder Woman (2017), while Steve Trevor has no significant dialogue after getting aboard the plane, Chris Pine conveys the conflict of a visibly terrified Steve psyching himself up to blow up the bomb-laden plane while on board entirely through facial expressions.

  • The Divine Comedy: Late in Dante's Purgatorio, Virgil manages to say "Be still" to Dante with only his face, not wanting to reveal to the ghost they're who they are just yet.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series, "Search by the Mule": The members of the Second Foundation have the ability to telepathically detect and alter emotions within line-of-sight, but can't actually read minds. Nevertheless, they are all so thoroughly acquainted with one another's minds that they can have entire conversations based solely on facial expressions and body language, so saying more than an occasional syllable is considered superfluous. The Mule is also able to participate in this style of discussion, which occurs at the climax.
  • An amusing variation in Judge Dee: While interviewing a possible suspect (an antique collector), the judge passes his lieutenant as a connoisseur himself. The suspect eagerly asks him his opinion on a new piece of he has doubts on. The unfortunate lieutenant pulls off an expression of such disgust that the guy says he thought it was a fake, but he didn't think it was so obvious.
  • Mimi from The Overstory becomes an expert of this in her job as a therapist, able to understand and communicate a lot to people just based on staring.
  • The little girls in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's novels often give each other communicative looks, demonstrating the almost-ESP said girls experience when together. Ivy and Martha do this a few times in The C hangeling, 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.
  • Steel Crow Saga: Subverted for laughs and Dramatic Irony when Jimuro tries to communicate to his childhood friend through subtle expressions that the woman pouring their drinks is actually a highly dangerous enemy agent who's holding them hostage. Said friend is much more facially eloquent in responding that he doesn't have a clue what Jimuro's wincing about.
  • Tortall Universe: Aly and Dove manage to hold an entire conversation like this in Trickster's Queen. (Apparently, it's a hereditary trait, as in the previous book Aly notes how Dove's father and stepmother are able to hold a conversation purely by facial expression. She considers it a sign of a good marriage.)
    Word of the arrests reached Balitang House in the early evening. Dove, furious, came flying into the workroom as Aly met with her pack. Aly smiled at her young mistress as sweetly as she knew how. They understood each other. Dove did not need to ask if Aly had known about the arrests. Aly did not need to tell her that she had the matter in hand. The girl turned and walked out again.
  • In one segment of World War Z, a mercenary discusses with the author how he met a celebutante's dog and they shot each other looks in the middle of a firefight that conveyed the message, "What about your master?" with the reply being, "What about yours?", and the final reply "Fuck 'em".

    Live-Action TV 
  • On 30 Rock, the male writers are using Jenna to get invited to a gay Halloween party. After she informs a gay friend of hers of this, this exchange follows.
    Gay friend: Girl, I don't even have the energy to tell you what's happening here, so read my face.
    Jenna: [Beat; gasps] Oh my God! They're using me to get invited to Gay Halloween so they can meet hot girls!
  • Babylon 5:
    • After Ivanova told Delenn that Sheridan had been "carrying on cranky", Delenn (being a Minbari, mostly fluent in English but not a native speaker) tried to look up the word "cranky", only to be given the runaround as she got shunted from one synonym to another. Finally, partway into a conversation with Sheridan, she finally got it just by looking at his rather grumpy expression.
    • The show was excellent at demonstrating this, not just describing it. For all the wit and carefully constructed cleverness of its dialogue, some of the strongest moments in the whole show were those with none whatsoever. The most powerful was almost undoubtedly Londo Mollari watching the bombing of planet Narn, there's not a word of dialogue in the entire scene, but Peter Jurasik's brilliant acting speaks volumes about how he's feeling in that moment.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • "Hush" features demons that steal all of the voices in Sunnydale. Although the cast sometimes uses handwriting, they also rely on this trope out of necessity.
    • There's also the scene in "No Place Like Home" where Buffy and Giles have a long discussion about him dressing up in a Robe and Wizard Hat for the opening of the Magic Box without either of them uttering a single word.
  • In the first episode of Cimarron Strip, Marshal Crown and jailed gang member Rocky exchange glances. Crown's face says, "I'll get the information of who you're working for out of you yet", while Rocky's face reads, "Not on my watch, you'll see."
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble play this trope for laughs in "Partners in Crime". They are both spying on the episode's villain by looking through adjacent windows, the villain's office between them, and catch each other's eye. A conversation follows using comically exaggerated expressions, lip-reading, and mime. The conversation ends when Donna gestures to the villain, who, it turns out, has been watching them embarrass themselves and simply asks, "Are we interrupting you?"
    • Thanks to Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman having very expressive faces, the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald often engage in this. Spectacular examples can be found in the episodes "The Caretaker", "Under the Lake" and "Hell Bent".
    • In An Adventure in Space and Time, William Hartnell wants to find ways to do this when he starts to have trouble remembering his lines. The scene happens in mid-1965 or so, and by this point, Hartnell isn't at all well; the memory problems are a symptom of his illness. His efforts at finding a workaround seem more of a quick fix for a problem that will eventually get worse.
  • The frequent use of this in Eastenders is mocked by Charlie Brooker in Weekly Wipe, in which he describes most of the inhabitants of Albert Square as "communicating in some sort of weird silent theatre of the mind".
  • Used in Everybody Hates Chris. While narrating, Chris says that his parents would try not to fight around them, but they did have their fights through facial expressions.
  • Simon Tam did this a lot in Firefly, particularly with his sister. It's probably genetic. After Simon's very awesome moment in the operating room in "Ariel", River gives Jayne this very glowing smile that all but says "That's my brother!" See also the entries for Serenity, where River gets a few more.
  • The scripts for Frontline frequently had lines in parentheses if they were intended to be implicit in facial expressions or body language.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The very first episode has old friends Ned and Robert meet again for the first time in years. The first words Robert, a classic Adipose Rex, says to Ned? "You've got fat." Ned replies by giving Robert a once-over and raising his eyebrows, a perfect nonverbal, "Look who's talking."
    • The Small Council scenes are full of this, with special note going to Conleth Hill's Varys, who manages to snark without saying a word, and spotting his facial expressions in the background as other characters are talking has become an unofficial sport among fans. In "Mhysa" everyone reacts to Joffrey mouthing off to Tywin with a variation on an oh shit expression, but each with different connotations.
    • In "The Winds of Winter", Samwell Tarly arrives at the Citadel with his wildling wife Gily in tow. The Maester he presents his credentials to manages to convey a surprising range of amusing emotions for a Comically Serious impassionate drone with just a few face gestures:
      [raises eyes from his book and glances over Sam and Gilly] [What the hell is this?]
      [a slight head tilt when Sam expects him to reach for the letter] [Yeah, big guy, not happening.]
      [gives Sam a look over after reading the letter] [You're kidding me, right?]
      [a side glance to Gilly with a baby] [And they feature in your story... how?]
      [after Sam tries to win him over with his best charmer smile and deep existential observation, the Maester gives him a long look, tightens jaw, briefly closes eyes] [Bloody hell, this is for real, why did it have to be me, alright, might as well get on with it.]
    • After losing his hand, whenever someone starts to bring up the subject of his incest and parenthood, even if indirectly, Jaime usually produces a begging "Please don't" wounded gaze.
    • In the Blu-ray commentaries, showrunners Benioff and Weiss rather bluntly admit that they're obsessed with this. To the point that they admit, word for word, that most of the storylines they went off-book for were purely because they're in awe that their own cast members (professional actors) are capable of emoting a range of meanings non-verbally with their facial muscles. As in everything that happened to Dorne for Season 5 onwards was justified as "don't you want to see Indira Varma (Ellaria) making an angry face?" Deciding to truncate Stannis's story then kill him off? They wanted the Stannis actor to give a great Facial Dialogue scene when he dies. They don't even hide it by Season 7: the post-episode behind the scenes videos, if you pay attention, are filled with the showrunners just...ranting about close-ups on the core cast members' faces, emoting at the camera. Right before Season 7 was released, someone figured out that the Emmy Awards website keeps an archive of any episode that ever won an award, i.e. episode 5.10 and 6.9, which meant we finally got to see their filming instructions in the script: they're filled with...hyper-detailed, lengthy descriptions of a sentence or two's worth of meaning that they intend to get across in just the actor's face with no dialogue. Things such as "Daenerys shoots the slaver a look that says, 'No, motherf—ker, my reign of terror has only just begun". Ask yourself: how would someone emote that? In theory?
  • Generation Kill: In the second episode, "Cradle of Civilization", Encino Man announces over the radio that the convoy got lost because Colbert took a wrong turn (omitting the fact that Encino Man ordered him to take that turn despite his protest that it was the wrong road). Colbert keys the mike on his radio to say something in response, but Lieutenant Fick makes eye contact with him and shakes his head, silently convincing Colbert to let it drop rather than get himself in trouble by mouthing off to the Captain.
  • Grey's Anatomy has a good conversation between George and Izzy. After waking up with an alcoholic blackout of the night before, Izzy remembers George cheating on his wife with her, but George doesn't. Later on, George's memory comes back, and he and Izzy share an entire conversation without speaking.
  • Harry and Paul skit "Eeny Miney Minie Mole" has two George Smileys (from the 1979 miniseries and the 2011 film versions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) competing to see which one should remain employed by MI5.
    Alec Guinness Smiley: Might I suggest a solution? A contest, to see which one of us looks the most disappointed with the world.
    Gary Oldman Smiley: Whilst at the same time, suggesting a hinterland of other interests.
  • Horatio Hornblower:
    • In the second installment "Mutiny" and "Retribution", many characters exchange significant looks when they cannot talk freely. It's because they are in front of their superiors and one of those is Insane Admiral who loses his ability to control his crew. It heavily overlaps with Meaningful Look, but some of the conveyed messages were rather complex. For example, Hornblower signals to 1st Lt Buckland that he shouldn't interfere with crazy Captain Sawyer and that he should carry out his order to arrest all the other lieutenants, him including.
    • Their Spanish adversaries and prisoners, Senor and Senora Ortega share a worried look after they were forced to the unconditional surrender. We later find out its meaning. He wanted her to pull the Honey Trap and Heroic Seductress, and she obliged. She pretended she was interested in having sex and killed one stupid Red Shirt, and the Spanish prisoners took over the ship.
  • The "telepathic conversations" on How I Met Your Mother. Although we hear what the characters are thinking, you can still get the gist of it just by the expressions alone. They are occasionally subverted when the other doesn't get it.
    • In "Bachelor Party", Robin attempts to convey an important message to Lily with facial expressions, and Lily interprets it as a request for a tampon.
    • Ted and Stella agree they have to help Stella's sister who was dumped right before her wedding. Ted thinks they agreed on paying for her dinner. Stella thought that the facial dialogue was about taking her wedding venue and getting married instead of them.
    • In "Doppelgängers", everyone else is having a telepathic conversation about Ted's hairstyle, and Ted's voiceover says, "What are we talking about? Nachos?"
  • Perhaps the most famous and hilarious example of the trope is the Vitameatavegamin sketch from I Love Lucy, where at one moment, Lucy is happily promoting the titular multivitamin syrup and in the next, she cringes so hard after consuming one tablespoonful of the syrup that the other actors watching Lucille Ball performing were trying really hard not to laugh.
  • Parodied in Jane the Virgin where Jane and Raphael try and stop talking, just try to read each other's facial expressions. Raphael twitches his nose because it itches, and Jane mistakes it for a sign.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power:
    • The first episode has an amusing moment while Gil-galad holds his speech, involving Elrond, Galadriel and Gil-galad himself. It begins with Galadriel smiling to herself while watching Elrond mimicking Gil-galad speech. As Gil-galad speaks, he has a staring with Galadriel, making clear that the speech is meant for her to understand is time to give up her quest. After Gil-galad announces that he will send everyone, including her, back in Valinor, Galadriel's jaw drops as she realizes Elrond and Gil-galad decided this behind her back. She then gives a nonverbal "How dare you" to Elrond, who understands he just got into troubles.
  • The Mandalorian depends on this during the rare occasions that Din Djarin removes his helmet near another character. Emotions that the seldom-speaking Mandalorian can't put into words instead come through in his facial expressions, which he struggles to hide without his helmet. In one especially memorable scene, Din is infiltrating an Empire Remnant base with assistance from the ex-imperial Mayfield and stolen uniforms. Mayfield comes across an old commanding officer who barely remembered him, and they are roped into an uncomfortable table discussion with the officer unaware of the situation. In the conversation the officer boasts of the Empires' plans to burn everything to the ground without concern for their own soldiers. Mayfield starts having issues with PTSD remembering his fallen friends and is obviously about to turn violent, which would blow their cover. The tension is conveyed entirely through Mayfield's growing rage and Dins' eyes pleading "DON'T." Then it gets violent.
  • Merlin and Arthur talk in looks a lot, even when they're speaking out loud. Put any of their scenes on mute and you'll get the idea and it will still be almost just as funny.
    • Merlin's face at 0:52.
    • This scene from the same episode. They have their entire conversation silently and almost leave it at that until Arthur decides to verbalize it anyway — probably because he felt Merlin wasn't embarrassed enough.
  • This is supposedly what got Peter Tork selected as a member of The Monkees. He didn't speak during his interview, just communicated with over-the-top facial expressions.
  • Gibbs' functional mute characterization on NCIS partly comes from Mark Harmon choosing to not say his lines during the show's early seasons and react to his co-stars through facial expressions. This turned Gibbs from being merely a gruff authority figure into someone who famously has no patience for the extraneous.
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Home Cooked Meal", Miss Brooks' facial expressions as Mr. Conklin is about to light a match in a gas-filled room...
  • In Proof, one flashback shows the Barliss family about to enter the church for Will's funeral. As Len and Sophie are about to go in, Cat is just standing outside, and her anguish and guilt are written all over her face. Len immediately understands that she's suffering too much to be able to face her dead son, and he and Sophie go in without her.
  • Rome
    • In the pilot episode, Caesar's standard is stolen and he gives Brutus a Despair Speech about how his soldiers are now on the verge of mutiny because it's a Portent of Doom. When Brutus looks away from him however, we see Caesar cast a look in Brutus' direction that shows he's just been shooting a line (Caesar knows Brutus will relate this tale to his enemy Pompey, who will become overconfident thinking Caesar doesn't have the backing of his troops).
    • In the same episode, Vorenus orders some crucified prisoners to be taken down after one of them talks immediately. In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, a soldier rolls his eyes as if to say, But we just put them up!
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Christopher Judge as Teal'c was the master of unspoken dialogue.
    • Parodied in a supposed "flashback" in the episode "200". While he and an invisible O'Neill are walking down a corridor (O'Neill's location is given away by the floating coffee mug he's drinking from), O'Neill makes a comment about being invisible which Teal'c responds to with his usual stare. Since he can't see O'Neill's response, Teal'c remarks after a moment, "I assume I am staring at you stoically."
    • Gets a Lampshade Hanging in an earlier episode where Daniel describes, in his normal mile-a-minute delivery, a non-vocal conversation he'd had with Teal'c moments earlier.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Allegiance", Picard and a handful of other random aliens are abducted by aliens for the purpose of study (because they communicate only with telepathy and wish to study other forms of communication). When Picard turns the tables on his captors, they return him to the Enterprise, but before they leave the bridge, Picard and the crew, communicating with only subtle facial expressions, trap the aliens in a forcefield to show them what it feels like to be imprisoned. Picard makes a point of the fact that he and the crew communicated this way.
  • Captain Christopher Pike of Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has a wide array of facial expressions conveying reactions ranging from "What the hell is going on here?" to "This Is Gonna Suck" to "Well, okay then..."
  • Charlie Young does this a lot in The West Wing. Since he's not one of the senior staff and thus not usually a participant in the complex policy discussions, but he is always with the President, his reaction to a lot of situations and crises (petty or dramatic) is done silently.
  • Almost every character on White Collar is capable of pulling this trope off. Quite a lot of Neal/Peter and Neal/Mozzie interaction is entirely facial expressions.
  • Mulder and Scully of The X-Files are infamous for this ability. Already masters at the Held Gaze and Longing Look, most scenes have an embedded layer of subtext within the facial expressions. It makes their relationship look very intimate and almost make an onlooker feel as though they've walked in on something they shouldn't have.
  • According to the writers of Yes, Minister, during filming Paul Eddington would deviate from the script by replacing his lines with expression. He was so good at this that in later episodes they actually annotated the script with "Paul doesn't have to say this line if he doesn't want to" where they expected this to work. An exceptional example is when he finds out his predecessor, who was about to publish some embarrassing memoirs, has unexpectedly died. The brief worry, then joy, then abrupt attempt to look sad is something to behold.

  • The "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Jackson Park Express" is about a man riding the bus who thinks he is having an increasingly detailed and bizarre conversation with the girl in the seat across the aisle from him using only this. It ends when the girl (who probably had no clue what was going on in the guy's head) reaches her stop and gets off the bus.

  • In this song, Carmen doesn't have any words, but body language can be used in scenes like this to add more characterization. This production (from the Met Opera, filmed in 2010) takes it above and beyond — she goes through several different emotions and realizations in this time.

    Video Games 
  • In the final episode of The Walking Dead Season 1, Kenny offers a bottle of whiskey to the other group members. Christa initially looks at her stomach before taking the bottle from him and downing it. While she does so, we see Kenny's face light up with a realization: she's pregnant. He never comments on it and it isn't properly revealed until the beginning of Season 2.
  • In Card Shark, the protagonist is a mute who communicates via facial gestures that indicate various emotions, with other characters presumably quickly getting the gist of what he's trying to say.

    Web Comics 
  • Done twice between Kirby and Dedede in Brawl in the Family.
  • Used extensively in The Bully's Bully because it's a textless webcomic.
  • A silent, two-person Flat "What", courtesy of Collar 6.
  • Grrl Power: Sydney Scoville and her mother Laura have an entire discussion (over six panels) consisting solely of arched/furrowed eyebrows, eye moves, stares, shrugs and nods, subtitled for the audience's sake.
    Maxima: We should hire you two for covert comms.
  • I Love Yoo: Lots of the character's faces show feelings that characters never state explicitly. The most well known example of this is the use of closed eyes to convey a character is being dishonest.
  • Shows up in this strip of Something*Positive.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: For unknown reasons, the mute Freedom Fighter Longshot does this all the time. He's understood by his companions through his eyes and facial expressions, which (somehow) indicate his thoughts and viewpoints on particular subjects. He doesn't talk at all until Jet is killed, and even then, only says less than fifteen words.
  • Molly of Denali: Willow from the episode "The Story of the Story Knife" tends to use facial expressions to communicate, such as lowering her eyebrows and scrunching her nose to say "no."
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • "Rock Solid Friendship" gives us one such moment, where Maud quietly signals to Starlight with her eyes that they should move on before Pinkie Pie can cause any more trouble, a sentiment that Starlight clearly agrees with.
    • "Sparkle's Seven": Rarity makes a lot of very expressive faces in the scene playing off Rainbow Dash and Zephyr Breeze. First her eyes dart from one to the other and then widen as the idea clinks; then she wiggles her eyebrows at a protesting Rainbow, perfectly conveying her intent. And afterward, when Rainbow is not very convincing with her flirt attempt, Rarity makes frantic gestures followed by a kissy face to egg her on.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Family Reunion — and Farewell", because they can't verbally speak to each other due to the circumstances, Ezra and Sabine's last (face to face) conversation goes this way, where she asks him not to go, he apologizes for having to do it and asks her to help him, and she reluctantly accepts. To emphasize it, all dialogue from other characters is muted in favor of the Orchestral Version of their respective leitmotifs.
  • Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters invokes and discusses this when Nathan first meets Erika, with whom he exchanges some infatuated smiles. Nathan boasts to his friends that the new girl "talked" to him, but since neither of them said anything, the friends doubt that it counts. However, when Ricardo and Nathan give Erika a tour of the school, she recognizes Nathan as the guy she "talked" with earlier. Nathan reminds her that they just smiled, but she assures him, "Well, that counts."
  • The Chuck Jones-animated Tom and Jerry shorts have Tom far more facially expressive in comparison to those made by other animators.
  • Young Justice has Superman and Superboy's first meeting go this way. Superboy looks happy to be meeting his "father" for the first time, Superman looks shocked and angry at his clone's existence, and Superboy is angry at the rejection. This sets the tone for their relationship for the rest of the season.


Vitameatavegamin Face

Lucy's hilarious reaction to the taste of Vitameatavegamin

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