We’ve all seen it. That look. The one that changed the course of your moment — or of your history. That kept you from making the wrong choice — or pushed you into making the right one. That gave you confidence to leap — or propped you up when you fell. (Or, on a lighter note, the one from your mother that stopped you in your tracks from a) running with scissors, b) using those scissors to cut off your little brother’s hair, or c) attempting to trade your little brother for the neighbor’s dog.)
The looks that we receive from others can communicate volumes (if we keep our eyes open); the ones we give can transmit a world of meaning (if the looker remains watchful).
Think about it. There’s the flirtatious wink. The icy death stare. The compassionate, teared-up glance. The loving gaze. The brief shut-eye assent. And the ever-popular bedroom eyes.
B. and I have had our share of shared looks (my death stare being the predictable reaction to his eye roll), as I imagine most couples have. Movie couples, certainly. (I love how I can illustrate almost anything by turning to the movies.) To wit:
The Wink. In The Way We Were, Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford) and his rich preppy friends show up at the diner where Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) is waiting tables. Katie hates everything about the Hubbell crowd (except, as it turns out later, Hubbell himself); Hubbell thinks she takes life too seriously (if you think that now, Hubbell, just wait until after you’re married to her). While she glares at them all for their spoiled, trust-funded freedom to have fun, she takes their orders for cheeseburgers and Cokes. “Onions?” she asks, annoyed. “Yeah,” he says. “In the Cokes.” And then he winks. Game over.
The Sultry Stare. No one did sultry better than Lauren Bacall. And on no one did she fix that sultriness better than Humphrey Bogart, namely in To Have and Have Not. After giving him one of moviedom’s greatest kisses, she laser-focuses her stare, telling him that if he wants her, “Just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and … blow.” It’s a line delivered coolly enough to match her icy blonde bob, yet it’s hot enough to melt the celluloid it was filmed on. He can’t take his eyes off her.
The Pained Scowl. This time it’s Bogart in Casablanca when the love of his life, Ilsa Lund, who abandoned him in wartime Paris years earlier, finds him again in Morocco, where she needs his help in getting her and her Resistance-hero husband out of the country. To say that Bogart’s eyes are filled with anguish is like saying the nearby Atlantic Ocean is filled with just a little water; to say that they burn with anger is like saying that there might be a small fire in hell. And to say that he is still in love with Ilsa is … well, you get it. Looks like he’s not ready for the start of a beautiful friendship.
The Love Lock. There’s a moment in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (a film filled with exceptional moments) that is particularly extraordinary. San Francisco newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) has been asked by his daughter to give his blessing to her upcoming marriage to Dr. John Prentice (a brilliant Sidney Poitier). The complication that makes him hesitate is that Prentice is Black, this is the 1960s, and, while Drayton is liberal in his leanings, he has tremendous fears for the societal problems the couple will face. Until. In an amazing speech, he recalls the passion he and his wife Christina (Katharine Hepburn) shared as a young couple and realizes that to stand in the way of such passion in this couple would be wrong. At one point Drayton looks over at Christina and their eyes lock in remembrance. But it goes deeper than that. Because the look is one also shared by lifetime lovers Tracy and Hepburn — a tender look that spoke to all their years of real-life love and passion at a time when they were late in life. Cue the tears — theirs and mine.
The eyes have it.
© 2021 Claudia Grossman