Jake Wardle selects his ten favourite movie stares…
Stares, glares, gazes… whatever you want to call them, the movies are full of them, and as far as I can tell nobody’s ever compiled a list of the best. Shocking, I’m sure you’ll agree, but true. For some, even the mention of ‘film’ will bring to mind a good stare, so it’s only fitting that those films which place similar value on the humble gawk are duly recognized…
10. Lyn Cassady – The Men Who Stare at Goats
Not, perhaps, a great film, but a damn good stare. A stare so good it gets the uncommon honour of being ‘the titular stare’. It is, as the title would suggest, a stare between a man (George Clooney) and a goat (a goat), ultimately resulting in said goat’s death. Nobody wins when a stare goes that far. But a classic stare regardless.
9. Private Pyle – Full Metal Jacket
Staring is a fairly versatile tool in film. A stare can establish a character, it can serve as a reaction, or it can signal a change in the mood or disposition of the character. Full Metal Jacket gives us the latter. Pyle’s stare is the final proof of his insanity. This isn’t the stare of a well man. This is the stare of a man pushed too far, a man holding a loaded shotgun with the absolute intention of using it. Which he does. But not before delivering a ruddy great stare.
8. Antoine Doinel – The 400 Blows
For those who believe the stare is not something to be lavished with attention, I point you to Jean-Pierre Léaud’s final look into the camera in Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. There are few more emotive looks in film, the 14 year old capturing the same sense of ‘what now?’ that Dustin Hoffman so brilliantly showed in The Graduate. If a stare can be beautiful, then this one is.
7. Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of the Lambs
When Hannibal Lecter stares, be scared. Behind those serpentine eyes is a mind at work, calculating, formulating a plan probably involving one or more of your internal organs. In the case of this stare (a personal favourite), it’s the precursor to an escape based around the removal of another man’s face. Which is unpleasant.
6. Warden Samuel Norton – The Shawshank Redemption
We know that a stare can tell a story on its own, and Warden Norton‘s stare in Shawshank is a brilliant example of this. As he gazes down the tunnel that Andy Dufresne spent the last two decades of his life making, we see his confusion, followed by his realization, then anger, with a little bit of fear, and maybe, just maybe, a hint of admiration. It’s a revelatory stare, for him, and for us too.
5. Colonel Kurtz – Apocalypse Now
Amid the decades of disagreement over Marlon Brando’s performance in this film, not once has anyone highlighted the brilliance of his stare. Frankly, it’s an argument ender. Those who maintain Brando mumbles his way through this film need to go back and watch – really watch – his eyes when Willard delivers the fatal blow, as he stares into the distance. The brilliance of Apocalypse Now is encapsulated in that stare. Kurtz’s insanity, his regret, and most of all, the horror of what he’s seen. It’s all in there.
4. Travis Bickle – Taxi Driver
The immortal final scene of Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver gave us a great stare. Happy-go-lucky Travis Bickle, having just fought his way through a pimp’s apartment, killing everyone inside, realises he hasn’t enough ammunition left to take his own life. Disappointed, he sits down on the sofa, and upon the arrival of the police, gives one of the all-time great stares, holding a finger-gun to his temple and pulling the imaginary trigger. He’s lost his mind, and he doesn’t care.
3. Alex DeLarge – A Clockwork Orange
Surely one of the most famous stares in cinema history? Kubrick was a master of the stare. Along with the aforementioned Full Metal Jacket, 2001: A Space Oddysey is arguably a film almost entirely comprised of stares. A Clockwork Orange’s stare, though, is his crowning glory. The first shot of the film is a close up of Alex’s staring face, slowly tracking backwards through the milk bar, never breaking his stare, the nature of his character becomes fairly clear immediately. Anybody who can stare like that for so long is surely capable of great evil.
2. Frank and Harmonica – Once Upon a Time in the West
Probably the most iconic stare on this list, is that between Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda in the finale of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. The camera switches between each actor’s eyes, as Frank (Henry Fonda, with eyes made for staring) slowly realises the mysterious gunman (Charles Bronson) is the same man who’s brother he killed years ago. Coupled with one of the greatest scores in cinema history, this is almost the greatest movie stare. Almost….
1. Norman Bates – Psycho
This is the stare. For me, the greatest stare in cinema history. A history full of great and varied stares, cataloguing every possible human emotion. But no stare says so much, does so much, as the stare of Norman Bates. As if Psycho isn’t unsettling enough, Alfred Hitchcock chose to follow the obligatory ‘detective explains everything to the audience’ scene with one of the most terrifying images in film. Norman, now 100% undeniably insane, his ‘mother’ now occupying his mind completely; he sits, and stares, and allows a fly to land on his hand, proving to the guards outside by not swatting it that he’s ‘harmless’. The image is slowly merged with a skull, before the credits roll. Eep…
What’s your favourite movie stare? Feel free to let us know in the comments…