Yes, this is another Showing Not Telling post.
Today’s focus is on the body, not the face. How do we, as people, express ourselves by our body’s movements? It’s so easy to concentrate on the eyes, the mouth, the chin and forehead. We’re drawn to faces, after all, it’s the first thing we want to look at. (Just did a google search on “study attention first face” and boy, are there a bunch of psychological studies involving faces on the internet, but as most of those are pdf’s, I’m afraid you’ll need to do your own search rather than click on links from me as I don’t like to download other’s work.)
It’s also an easy thing for us to focus on as writers. Raised eyebrows and pursed lips are familiar tools. How do we show emotions in someone’s body? It is not necessarily as easy to do.
So let’s use an example where we can focus on that particular skill: V for Vendetta.
I’ll be using some youtube clips to illustrate points but if you have not seen this movie yet, I strongly recommend watching it in its entirety as the clips will be spoilers. Even reading this post further will include spoilers!
The reason I recommend this film to study the expression of emotion strictly through the body is that the main character, V, (played by Hugo Weaving who does a stunning job, imo), is wearing a mask, wig, and rather stiff clothing that covers his whole body. There are no facial expressions whatsoever, and even the other bodily hints such as straining tendons in the throat, are not visible at all.
Everything he expresses is through tone of voice and physical movement. And he conveys it so well, that he is captivating.
Yes, Natalie Portman does a great job as well, she’s jut not the focus of this post. 🙂
Because there are no other indicators of emotion, we are forced to focus in different arenas for those emotional clues. As writers, this is a great exercise. Especially if you turn off the sound (mind you, with sound you can concentrate on how he is using his voice to substitute for those subliminal facial cues we’re so used to).
To start off with a bang, there is this “god is in the rain” scene. This one is even subtitled, so turn off your volume and watch what happens. Natalie Portman’s character, Evey, has just gone through a massive psychological death. Watch her body, not her face!, as she enters the room. What does it convey? How does her movements, position of her body, her arms, her hands, make you feel?
Watch V react to her, does he move slow or quick? Turned to her or away? Head up? Head down? Placement of shoulders? How is he holding his torso? What does he do with his hands? How do you react to all of these components?
When you feel an emotional response, what has just happened? What have they done that elicited that response? That, my dear friends, is the motion you want to capture in your storytelling.
In this dance scene there is at least one moment where I’m convinced V loves Evey and is expressing it in just the way he’s holding her. Do you feel it too? What is it about how he moves that makes me so certain?
For fun, here is the V speech which just for the sheer use of ‘v’ words, is a veritable, well, wonder. I’m not as good with my thesaurus, clearly. ;D Here V is rather light and playful, attempting not to frighten while still maintaining an aura of gentle menace (is that even possible? perhaps I’m just deluded and overcome by that pile of v words, you be the judge…). Everything he is conveying is through tone of voice and movement. How much of it is in the voice? How much in movement?
Hugo Weaving also manages to do an evocative death scene, in mask, barely moving. The emotion is in his breathing, the tilt of his head, particularly in how he orients to Evey. “But surely the emotion is in his voice? His words and how he says them?” you say? Watch it again, without sound.
Any movie can be watched for how the actor conveys emotion, intent, purpose via movement, but it can be tricky to dissociate the body from the face (our natural inclination is to watch it primarily for cues to what people are feeling). This movie provides eliminates our ability to cheat.
Hat’s off to Hugo for a great job of acting.
Addendum: was just checking the links and as I watched snippets of them again I realized there was one other comment I wanted to make.
Despite the fact that the character is so limited in how he can express himself, he doesn’t overact the movements. They’re not exaggerated or serving as a substitution for the face in the sense of compensation.
Or at least, so goes my opinion. ymmv. 🙂