The human face is a funny thing. We like to think we are in complete control of our facial expressions most of the time, but in fact we are not. You might grimace at receiving news of a colleague’s success. You might smile inappropriately at hearing bad news about someone you know. Only the person you’re talking to, e.g., the "viewer," knows for sure what you seem to be thinking, if that makes sense. And yet, we place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of facial expressions in communications: if the lips say yes, are the eyes saying no? What does that furrowing of the eyebrows mean? And so on. Is it possible that the way humans communicate with each other in this age has been shaped by the movies? This video essay by Must See Films about reaction shots takes us past some of the most memorable movies ever made; we see Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp rejoicing at a declaration of love, Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance receiving the full brunt of the horror of his imagination in ‘The Shining,’ Mickey Rourke’s wrestler taking in the decay of his body in opposition to the world around him in ‘The Wrestler,’ and many others. The characters’ expressions don’t seem staged or unnatural in relation to the events taking place on screen–in fact they seem imitable, the kinds of expressions we might put on in certain circumstances. Or are they? How can we know?
Watch: Reaction Shots In Movies: The Self, Exposed