Five Undeniable Visual Character Cheats in Film


Filmmaking is visual trickery. When you have two hours to introduce characters, get them in trouble, and have them get back out of trouble, every second counts. The easy way to introduce a character who’s good or bad, caring or cruel, hot or not, is to have someone explain these things to us. But not only is that boring, it’s time consuming. This is when the adage ‘show, don’t tell’ comes into play. Following are some devices (and sometimes clichés) I’ve noticed that manage to quickly convey character traits.

Only Jerks Eat Apples


It’s such a small action, and in real life, it would signify nothing but an appreciation for healthy eating. But in movies, if a character munches on an apple in any given scene, they suddenly project a special kind of arrogance. Even if they’re usually a pretty nice person. It’s the modern equivalent of a cowboy spinning a pistol on his finger.

Only Nerds Wear Glasses


They could be a freckle-faced school girl, or a seven foot wrestler, but give them a pair of specs and we understand – they’re well read and good with numbers. Hell, Superman’s wireframes turn him into an unrecognisable, bookish geek.

In real life? Glasses mean poor eyesight. This adds to the intrigue of a character like Harry Potter. He’s clever, sure, but he’s never been that interested in reading. He’s a magic-weaving, world-saving prophet who wears glasses because he needs to. In any other movie, he’d be an accountant.

Only Badasses Have Short Hair (Girls, at least)


If you’re a leading lady, a love interest, or any ‘normal’ woman in a movie, your hair is most likely past your shoulders. But if you carry a gun or know kung-fu, it apparently calls for a new do. There is, of course, a tactical advantage to short back and sides if you’re likely to be involved in hand-to-hand combat. Often, the ‘transformation’ of average woman to badass is signified by a haircut. Just look at Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight and Natalie Portman in V For Vendetta.

At a glance, I’d say roughly 50% of my female friends have short hair, and they do it simply because they like it and/or it’s more comfortable in the climate. None of them are assassins or astronauts. That I know of…

Only Villains Have Scars

There seems to be something inherently evil about scars, especially if they’re on a character’s face. The Lion King’s Scar is the obvious example, but The Joker, Scarface, Freddie Krueger, that dude from Avatar, are also some of the most treacherous characters in film. You have to wonder, were they bad before they got their scars?

It’s rare to find a nice character who, like in real life, has a scar simply because they were stabbed or injured. Again, young Mr. Potter is an exception, as is Tyrion Lannister (though I guess it depends which side you’re on).

Only Superheroes Wear Capes


Does anyone know why Superheroes wear capes? I’m intrigued about the origin of that fashion choice. Batman’s is actually useful from time to time, but Superman’s is pretty useless, and don’t get me started on Thor’s mother’s drapes. In any case, it’s an obvious tell when a character wears a cape in a film.

But in real life, if I was in a burning building and saw someone wandering around in a cape, I wouldn’t be thinking ‘saviour’. I’d be thinking ‘fire hazard’.

I’ve exhausted my examples for now, but these were fun to come up with! Can you guys think of any more?

If you like the things I write about, we’d probably be good friends. You could find me in any random London cafe most days, or on Twitter if you prefer that kind of thing.

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. You’re mixing your media. Harry Potter, super heroes were created for books or comics. So they got there glasses and capes before they appeared in movies. That’s interesting about apples. Characters eating apples always seem rude. Eating loudly while someone else is talking.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.