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Frozen Face

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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.

It can be the result of cosmetic surgery, in which case the cosmetic surgery backfires big time. Which is Always Female, and she gets no sympathy. Then, given the vanity she is depicted with, she doesn't want any. Can also be portrayed as Surprisingly Realistic Outcome or An Aesop against Magic Plastic Surgery. If True Beauty Is on the Inside this trope is played to symbolise that they lack it.

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. Symbol Face frequently overlaps with it, as most characters playing that trope don't exactly move their face around a lot.

Have in mind that this is about physical faces; masks and helmets should be frozen by default. Unless they are not, or show the face anyway, or are not worn to begin with.

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.

Has nothing to do with either Frozen (2010) or the Disney Animated Canon franchise Frozen.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:
    • In the first season, 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.
    • In 2nd Gig, Hideo Kuze has a beautifully sculpted artificial face. Which can't move. His mouth doesn't even move when he talks. It turns out that this is for the exact same reason his face is so beautiful - expert face-sculptors for cyborg bodies like to limit the range of movement for their more impressive creations in order to avoid wear and tear. As such, it takes a great deal of stress for him to overcome his respect for the work of art attached to his skull and start properly emoting.
  • 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.
  • Yuki Nagato from Haruhi Suzumiya arguably isn't human, since she's a deliberately designed interface for a sufficiently advanced alien/eldritch abomination known as the Data Integration Thought Entity/Data Overmind. Not having been programmed with emotions, or the ability to express them, she usually has a neutral expression and tone of voice, no matter the circumstances. In The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon speculates that this might have been a deliberate decision on the part of the Data Overmind, to make Haruhi Suzumiya accept her backstory, but that she has also grown beyond her programming, and has emotions, even if she lacks the ability to express them.
  • 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.
    • He finally starts to properly emote when Homura does him in in Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion. Whatever Homura did to him left him twitching in agony and utterly mentally destroyed, which Kyubey totally had coming.
  • 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.
  • In one episode of Aggretsuko, Retsuko gets angry that Washimi won't make any funny faces when Retsuko, Gori and Washimi are all drunk and taking pictures of themselves making funny faces until Washimi explains that she does not have facial muscles.
  • Dad, the Beard Gorilla and I has Kouichi's section chief, whose face never seems to change regardless of what Cloud Cuckoo Lander antics he pulls. His mouth doesn't even open when he talks or shouts.
  • The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You: Thanks to her low blood pressure, Aashii constantly has a smile on her face, no matter how she really feels, which has caused more than one person to think that she isn't taking things seriously.
  • Aharen-san wa Hakarenai: Raidou's face is consistently in a calm expression, no matter what is going on around him or in his own head. He's not necessarily the traditional stoic, however. He never changes his expression because he seems to be physically unable to. His attempt to smile and appear friendly yields no outward change to his expression whatsoever.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman
    • 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.
    • 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 smiling during the whole story, and assumed to be one of the kidnappers, is really a hostage whose face is frozen in an unsettling Slasher Smile. He was a former USMC sniper whose facial muscles were damaged by shrapnel in Vietnam.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Queen Atomica's victim's faces are unchanging; as their mental capacity and physical appearance is permanently altered to her liking they're entirely unaware and uncaring of this eerie outward sign of what's been done to them.
  • Mojo, from the Marvel Universe, has a perpetual grin aided by wires stretched across his face and teeth much too large for his mouth. Though he cackles and giggles constantly anyway.

  • Joan Rivers on that Geico commercial, in a Self Parody: "Am I smiling? I can't tell, Steve, I can't tell!"

     Fan Works 
  • Paul, literally, in With Strings Attached. In the Fourth Movement, he discovers he can set his muscles so that he can prevent his face from showing emotion. It comes in very handy when he has to pretend for several days that he is mind-controlled, and has to stand around listening to bizarre drivel from his controller.
    Houseplants! Fucking houseplants!
    • In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World Paul finds even more use for this ability, as he uses it to hide potentially awkward or overly revealing emotions from both enemies and friends. In particular, he uses it to hide his growing hatred of his magic from the others, as well as his jealousy of them.
      • Didn't work with Ringo, though.
  • Downplayed with Miller, from the My Little Pony Fanfiction of the same name, written by totallynotabrony. While he doesn't show emotion for quite some time, it's because he used to be human and doesn't know how to work pony facial muscles well enough to show emotion.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Abominable Dr. Phibes Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) must wear a mask of his previous face to hide the skull-like disfigurement a car accident left him with.
  • In Batman (1989), Jack Nicholson wears some rather disturbing makeup and prosthetics to portray the Joker's disfigured smile in live-action.
  • In The Dark Knight, you can see the muscles in the burnt half of Two-Face's face moving, and it seems like it's at least trying to convey emotion the same as the intact 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 Joker in The Batman; according to Word of God, his face has been trapped in a smile since childhood.
  • Robocop, while unmasked.
  • 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 One Crazy Summer, a crossing guard shares with some bullies the old wives tale that "if you make an ugly face and someone slaps you on the back, it will stick that way". Later those bullies are stretching their skin making faces to mock Little Girl's dog when sneaks up from behind and back slaps them both; sure enough, their faces are frozen in mid-stretch.

  • 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.
  • There are a number of Warhammer 40,000 novels that feature characaters with this condition:
    • In Nick Kyme's Salamander, Iagon perpetually sneers because his face was burned by acid, damaging muscle.
    • In Mike Lee's 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 captain 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 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 Dan Abnett's Xenos, when Eisenhorn is tortured by a Chaos cult, the torturer 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. In The Magos, this damage is repaired, but it takes a couple of books before he gets back in the habit of facial expressions.
  • Seanan McGuire's InCryptid novel Chaos Choreography introduces choreographer Lindy O'Toole, whose face had been Botoxed into immobility years ago in a desperate grasp at retaining her youth.
  • In The Kite Runner, Ali's facial muscles are paralyzed, rendering him perpetually expressionless.
  • Sardonicus, which the film adapted, revolves around a man who, after being made to exhume his father to seek out something buried with him, was so horrified by the sight of the grinning corpse that he reflexively took on an immovable rictus grin.
  • Dolphin Trilogy: John is raised by dolphins and has no human contact for roughly the first twenty years of his life. He has no facial expressions and is Unable to Cry or laugh because he had no one to learn those behaviors from. It isn't until he meets Della that he begins to emote in a manner more typical of his species, although he still looks almost expressionless compared to most people.

    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?
    Eddie: No.
    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:
    Jordan: 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 & 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 (1966) 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.
    Brock: [flat affect] Oh, that's good. Red and green. You're funny.
    Birthday clown: What is that, sarcasm?
    Brock: [same flat affect] No, no. Really, you're very good. I'm having a great time.
    Birthday clown: Tell your face.
  • 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.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Prickly City, Winslow talks about how he feels, deadpan, and Carmen tells him he has to lay off the botox.
  • Calvin and Hobbes riffs on the old parental warning of "don't make that face or it'll stick that way" when Calvin's mother tells him that and Calvin is thrilled that he gets to be a terrifying freak. He holds the face for as long as he can until he realises that he's not getting much of a reaction from other people.


    Video Games 
  • This is the entire backstory of the indie horror game, My Beautiful Paper Smile, revolving around a project that makes children "perpetually happy" by keeping their face in a permanently-locked smile. You're an escaped subject, and for the entire game that smile is frozen solid on you.
  • NieR has Emil, post-transformation into a skeleton.
  • NieR: Automata has the Big Bad, Terminal N2, who appears as a girl with static, literally unblinking expression, either a stoic stare, or a Slasher Smile. In fact, the few times her face changes, it's always via unnatural computer static display instead of actual muscle movement, as though selecting an image file to display.
  • Played for laughs in Kingdom of Loathing. It's possible to find a turtle in the orcish frat house that has been so deeply traumatized by the things it's witnessed that its face is frozen in an empty grin.
  • Ice-shroom from Plants vs. Zombies.
    "Ice-shroom frowns, not because he's unhappy or because he disapproves, but because of a childhood injury that left his facial nerves paralyzed."
  • String Tyrant: This can happen to Mary and friends if she loses to the brewery trap. They get turned into rubbery figures with square hands permanently sporting wide smiles.
  • Hata no Kokoro from Touhou Project always looks completely emotionless, so she uses various masks to express the emotions she's unable to show on her face.
  • Downplayed by Sans of Undertale fame, who's able to emote with his eyes to a degree, but seems incapable of changing the shape of his incessantly grinning mouth. Which makes sense; after all, he is a skeleton. This makes the moment where you murder him all the more jarring because, if you look closely, you can see the corners of his mouth shift just enough to turn the smile into a grimace of shock, subtly revealing that his smiling the entire game despite everything he's been through has been by choice.
  • A frequent theme for the protagonist in Disco Elysium:
    • At the beginning of the game, you have a fixed, rakish leer called The Expression ingrained into your features, taken from a popular disco star of yesteryear. It now 'belongs to your primary motor cortex' and to change it would take 'a minor neurological miracle'. You can eventually gain control of The Expression with an Impossible Electrochemistry check, but it takes a lot of work.
    • Succeeding at the final check in the Fascism Vision Quest in The Final Cut leaves your character with a permanent solemn scowl from nerve damage, meaning you can now only move your face with your fingers. Kim at first thinks you've had a stroke, then that you're constipated, and then tells you to your face that you've turned yourself into a walking mask. As long as you don't keep insisting that you have become The Icebreaker, Kim's at least compassionate about your newfound disability.
    • As a child, he had polio and recovered from it ("fuck you, polio!"), but it left him with some slight paralysis in his jaw that leads him to slur some of his words. (According to Idiot Doom Spiral, prior to his amnesia, he called his weird jaw his 'law-jaw'.) This may also account for his tendency for his facial expressions to get stuck.
  • The Caretaker from Darkest Dungeon, due to the general atmosphere of the game, sports a Broken Smile at all times. One the one occasion that he wanted to appear somber, he had to resort to covering his mouth with his hands.

  • Mousou Telepathy's male lead, Hayato Toda, was born with a condition that makes him unable to make strong physical emotions. The condition is hereditary, and most of his shown family members have it as well. This gives him the appearance of a cool, stoic, and disaffected character, but he's shown to be just as expressive and emotive as any other boy in his head. Unfortunately, no one but his closest friends and the telepath main character are able to recognize this, as we see his relationships with others suffered when they thought his natural stoicism was him putting up emotional walls.
  • Through the majority of Nedroid, Reginald never closes his beak.
  • In Kid Radd, Dr. Amp is an NPC 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.
  • The main character of Ghost Theater has her face locked to a neutral expression due to the trauma of indirectly causing her parents' deaths. She takes a job in the supernatural theater because her face is able to temporarily express emotions while she's possessed by a ghost.

    Web Original 
  • Much like Kyubey above, Luzi of Opening Move has a frozen "cute" expression, repeatedly described by the protagonist as a 'flat rabbit face'.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Olliver's Adventures: In "Warpo General Hospital", when Olliver starts making faces, he's told not to because his face will get stuck that way. He keeps doing it and, lo and behold, his face gets stuck. He gets admitted to the titular Warpo General. After fixing up the doctor, he's cured of his case of face-stay-like-that (as the doctor calls it) by having Ollie eat a sour ball.
  • 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 SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Face Freeze!" is 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.
  • In an episode of American Dad!, Francine gets a Botox injection in an attempt to appear more attractive to sexually-repressed Stan. For a good part of the episode, Francine reacts to Stan's antics in voice, but not in face.
    Francine: "Am I scowling? I want to be scowling."
  • Rob McTodd from All Hail King Julien has had so much surgery done on his face, his face is more or less stuck in a squinty smile that he can't control.
    Rob: This wasn't an easy decision for me Julie.
    Julien: Yeah, you don't look too sad about it, Rob!
    Rob: Don't pay attention to that, I've had so much hyena gland put into my face that crying or frowning is literally impossible. (His smile audibly widens)
  • Hilda has the Wood Man, a humanoid creature entirely made of wood. His face consists of two eye holes that can't close or change expression and a mouth which never moves when he speaks.
  • Frozen face and body: "Finnegan's Flea," from Paramount's Noveltoons series, tells the tale (as told by a bartender) of a prison inmate who discovers a singing flea. After he's released and later reunited with the flea, he auditions it at a TV studio and is signed to a contract. Finnegan and his flea go to a bar (the one run by the bartender telling the story) to celebrate, but when the bartender sees the flea, he swats it dead. Finnegan goes catatonic and remained frozen at the bar since.
  • Charlotte Pickles in All Grown Up! is left with a stretched out face from too much cosmetic surgery. Didi, at one point, shrieked upon seeing her without bracing herself first.
  • An episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law revolved around the aftermath of Droopy losing a lawsuit against his plastic surgeon over a botched facelift, leaving him with a permanent grin on his face, even when he's crying, which he did after losing the suit.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • Paralysis of the facial muscles is a frequent symptom of Parkinson's Disease.
  • Bell's palsy is a relatively common cause of facial paralysis. It's usually temporary, but not always, as evidenced by some of the below examples.
  • 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.
  • "Good Ol' J.R." Jim Ross via Bell's palsy.
  • Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien suffered Bell's palsy in childhood, resulting in the left half of his face being paralysed.
  • People with Schizoid Personality Disorder can come across like this, as can autistic people. It's usually not that their muscles are stiff, but that they simply do not consciously or subconsciously express emotions physically (or otherwise express them in more subtler fashion), giving them a detached and slightly eerie appearance. Some such individuals are uncomfortable with or wish they didn't have this trait, while others genuinely don't mind or don't care.


Video Example(s):


Kana Tachibana

Boy, she'd definitely beat Ryota black and blue if it weren't for the fact that she's all but completely paralyzed!

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / EstablishingCharacterMoment

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