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In the climactic scene of Watchmen, Ozymandias says:

I've known Jon [Osterman, AKA Dr. Manhattan] long enough to see he isn't devoid of emotion. His subtle facial twitches wouldn't be noticed by the layman, but to me, he might as well have been sobbing.

As he says this, we see a clip of the "subtle facial twitches" to which he is referring:

Or at least, we see a clip that supposedly includes the twitches. Personally, all I see is a blink.

What "subtle facial twitches" is Ozymandias talking about?

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    The ones you wouldn't notice. – Elliott Frisch Jun 16 '16 at 0:34
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    The script writer may have been alluding to the real idea of microexpressions, muscular twitches which last only a fraction of a second and are hard to spot without training. There's a book on this by the psychologist who's done the most research on it called Emotions Revealed if anyone's interested. – Hypnosifl Jun 16 '16 at 0:39
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    He doesn't know what he's talking about: "Consequently, because so many things have been lumped under the appellation "micro-expression" it is often difficult to determine what someone means, especially when they substitute "micro-expressions" for plain old body language or nonverbals." – Mazura Jun 16 '16 at 2:10
  • @Mazura - That article does not say that micro-expressions as Enkman described them don't exist, it just says that the term is misused in popular culture (specifically the show Lie to Me) to refer to other things as well. However, the dialogue in Watchmen specifically referred to "facial twitches", not a head movement or neck twitch, suggesting the writer was using the term correctly--they may not have bothered to animate the twitch since few viewers would be able to pick on it anyway. – Hypnosifl Jun 16 '16 at 4:03
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One of Ozymandias's abilities was his heightened sense of perception. Given this perception and his extreme intelligence, he likely learned to read human faces for their micro-expressions. In the above instance, it is clear to me that the blinking is the part of the micro-expressions we (the audience) are meant to see.

  • Micro expressions are very brief facial expressions, lasting only a fraction of a second. They occur when a person either deliberately or unconsciously conceals a feeling. Seven emotions have universal signals: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, surprise and happiness. --Micro-expressions; Paul Ekman Group
  • Why would an immortal, indestructible, barely physical being NEED to blink, otherwise? Micro-expressions would be linked to Doctor Manhattan's human mind and mindset. Even though his body is completely indestructible, he would (at least until he completely divorced his psychology from his physiology) still have tells, muscular twitches and blinking habits associated from his years of being a flesh and blood being.

From the Daily Mail: How do you spot a lie?

Clinton denied that he had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinksy - but did his blinking betray him?

  • If you want to know if someone is telling the truth, keep an eye on the eyes. Liars blink in different ways during and after a falsehood, researchers claim.

  • They blink less than normal during the lie, and then have a flurry up to eight times faster than usual afterwards. 'It is striking what different patterns in eye blinks emerged for liars and truth tellers,' said Dr Sharon Leal, co-author of the study at Portsmouth University.

People known for using the ability are able to read faces and recognize people who are potentially being misleading or outright lying. Poker players, experienced police detectives, and con men use this ability to gain an advantage over other people who lack perfect control of their facial expressions.

  • FBI Special Agent, Joe Navarro, (quoted in my answer) says: don't touch your neck. – Mazura Jun 16 '16 at 1:14
  • In this case, the reason I don't use the neck micro-expression is because of exactly that reason. If Manhattan had reached up to his neck, I would have said, he was trying to hide his expression. But since his hands don't move, I go with the blinking as the tell the audience is meant to see. – Thaddeus Howze Jun 16 '16 at 1:17
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    All I see is a neck twitch. The blink simply completes the 'expression'. That blink without a neck twitch would be meaningless (or at least, then it would mean something else). Also, rather, Mr. FBI meant: don't let your neck speak for you. – Mazura Jun 16 '16 at 1:20
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    Look at WHEN he blinks. He immediately blinks and then has a long gaze afterwards -- as if he became aware of the fact that he reflexively blinks and wants to hide the fact he did it. – Thaddeus Howze Jun 16 '16 at 1:22
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    Without digressing too much into the realm of deception detection, it's worth mention, I think, that the Daily Mail makes it seem like all you need to do to detect deception is pay attention to blink rates, and that changing blink rates are reliable deception markers on their own. Many deception experts would disagree with both of those. – Todd Wilcox Jun 16 '16 at 15:50
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As Elliott pointed out, the quote in the question answers the question. Ozymandias can detect details that we laymen cannot. So it stands to reason that you would not be able to observe it in a GIF.

  • Then an expert should be able to tell us what we're not seeing. IMO, it stands to reason that at 24FPS or above, we should be able to catch just about anything. – Mazura Jun 16 '16 at 17:28
  • @Mazura: Not really, no. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 16 '16 at 17:55
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    @Mazura doesn't follow. If the whole point is that (the vast majority of) viewers wouldn't notice the details, why bother putting them in at all rather than just showing something that doesn't appear to contain any? – Darael Jun 17 '16 at 2:13
  • If it "stands to reason that you would not be able to observe it in a GIF" because you are a laymen, then it stands to reason that an expert should be able to tell us what we're not seeing, if it is there to be seen. – Mazura Jun 19 '16 at 1:03
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    @Mazura it is my belief that that is the correct extranarrative conclusion, yes. Intranarratively I believe there was something, but the story is told with it intentionally withheld from the viewers, in part to drive home, no matter how good the viewers are at such observations, just how much better the claiming character is. – Darael Jun 19 '16 at 3:03
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Well, I see at least one twitch in that GIF, although it's not on the face. Check Dr. Manhattan's neck near the last frames. Such a twitch might be associated with feelings related to morbidity, particularly when one is trying to hide them.


On the other hand, you might be missing out on a beauty of the artistic expression of the clip, which only applies the first time you watch it: No matter where you choose to focus on the face, you don't notice any facial twitches.

If there were a single twitch then, odds are, many people would notice it, simply because every viewer might focus on a different part of the image. This would spoil the fantasy that one must be well trained to see them, and the poetry of Ozymandias' statement. Wouldn't it?

For that reason, I'm fairly certain that the actor in this clip was trying to suppress all twitches, in order to more appropriately convey the idea that they are hard to notice. Could you really definitively say that there are no twitches, without re-watching the clip several times, checking all points of the face?

Doesn't re-watching something always destroy a bit of the magic? It's a shame, really. ;-)

  • I've watched it many times. He blinks. That's it. – Mazura Jun 16 '16 at 18:30

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