Sorry this post took me so long. Family comes first of course!

In interviews with Philippa Braithwaite and the DM series editor they have talked about how effective the actors are at demonstrating their thoughts through their eyes and countenance. The editor says he makes a special point of using the back and forth expression of the actors’ eyes when he’s editing scenes (often called “shot/reverse shot”). We viewers have no trouble noticing this emphasis, in my opinion, and I can think of many times when Martin and Louisa exchange glances without speaking or when Bert uses his eyes to convey something to Al or Jennifer or others. Our eyes betray a lot about what we’re thinking and feeling and actors use their eyes as a means to deliver a huge range of emotions. In fact, facial expression is any actor’s paramount skill and directors definitely put a lot of emphasis on eyes. David Bordwell, a professor of film studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and well-known for his written work on cinema, quotes the famous director John Ford as saying that an audience should pay special attention in movies to actors’ eyes. Bordwell has analyzed the use of eyes and their expressions in the film “Social Network.” Many movies have focused on the actors’ eyes as the most important window into what is happening in the scene. For example, director Michael Curtiz achieves tremendous sympathetic impact by concentrating the camera on Ingrid Bergman’s eyes in Casablanca; or horror movies indicate growing levels of fear by simply showing an actor’s eyes widening, etc. What about Janet Leigh in Psycho and the shower scene? Her eyes give us the most effective warning of what’s to come. Good acting seems to entail knowing how to use one’s eyes for all sorts of meanings and Bordwell notes: “modern players must be maestros of their facial muscles and eye movements.” In fact, actors try to avoid blinking too much. The most notable examples of Martin Clunes using his eyes to indicate an emotional reaction may be when Doc Martin is particularly concerned with communicating something to Louisa, such as “I really care about you,” or “I’m confused by you,” or “I’m really not sure what just happened.” Caroline Catz is very adept at using her eyes too and can let Martin and the audience know just what she’s thinking with a certain look. For sure the scenes when she wonders what Martin’s doing when he treats her friend Holly nicely demonstrate her facial artistry, and we can’t forget those scenes in the last episode of series 5 when she is trying to help Martin deal with Mrs. T. But I just love the scene at the church in the first episode of season 6 when she appears at the entrance to the church and first just looks back at Martin and then motions him with her eyes to walk back down the aisle. MC and CC converse with their eyes often and that interaction contributes greatly to both the humor and the intimacy of their characters’ bond. Their eyes also show their disappointment and perplexity with each other. At times they communicate more with their eyes than with words, but unfortunately we viewers see it while they often do not.

The other significant factor when it comes to eyes is how important they are in determining what might be happening medically. Nearly every time the doc examines a patient he first checks their eyes. Clearly the consulting doctor on this show has told MC to always check each person’s eyes. (I can’t help wondering how many times MC has poked someone in the eye when doing a scene.) He does this because doctors really can tell a lot by what they find when they look in a patient’s eyes. Doctors are taught to look at a person’s face first and note any asymmetry. Drooping eyelids (ptosis) can be a sign of a cranial nerve problem or Myasthenia Gravis. The first thing a doctor might notice would be any asymmetry of the pupils, i.e. one pupil might by dilated or constricted. Dilation of one pupil could mean something as serious as pressure in one hemisphere of the brain or something as simple as having rubbed one’s eye after touching Jimpson Weed. Constriction could mean something as serious as an occlusion or dissection of the carotid artery or a cerebral vessel or as simple as using the wrong eye drops (like Joe Penhale does in S5 E8). Fixed pupils (those that don’t respond to light or dark) could mean brain death, drug overdose, or the use of chemical eye drops like most of us have had when our eyes are checked. Eye redness could be due to viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, exposure to a chemical irritant, or an allergy. If the whites of our eyes (or sclera) are pale, that could indicate anemia; if there is hemorrhaging, it could mean difficulty with clotting or poor platelet levels; or jaundice (yellowing) could mean liver failure or a problem with one’s bilirubin. Then there’s the iris, or color portion of the eye, which can have dark brown rings (Kayser-Fleisher) around it that indicate poor copper metabolism (Wilson’s disease). The way the lens appears gives doctors some key information, as we see in DM when he notices Louisa’s acute glaucoma or baby Sheba’s cataract. The best way to recognize a lens or retina problem is with an ophthalmoscope, but Martin probably saw redness in Louisa’s eye, and Sheba’s cataract (or clouding of the lens) was picked up by the reflection apparent in the photo. Cataracts can be indicative of Diabetes or many other diseases. Using an ophthalmoscope would make it possible to identify papilledema (optic nerve swelling) which can indicate intracranial (inside skull) pressure which could mean a tumor, meningitis, or hydrocephalus. Lateralized papilledema, as probably seen in the baker who fell off the cliff in S2 E9, might indicate an epidural or subdural hematoma. In the baker’s case, Martin uses a drill to reduce the pressure. Accurate but highly irregular. Ophthalmoscopes also make it possible to check the blood vessels from the optic nerve to the retina and that can help determine High Blood Pressure or Diabetes.

Thus, eyes can provide great insight into both emotional and physical aspects of human life. They are an essential facet of good acting and certainly key to this show in terms of their communicative powers, as well as their value to the care of the villagers. In S6, we learn how important this couple’s eyes are to their relationship because more than in any other series, the times when Martin and Louisa lock eyes are the times when they disclose the most to each other and to us about their feelings. In addition, Martin’s despair during this series is evident in his eyes during the many occasions when he’s struggling with the challenges in his life, and on the occasions when he’s alone and he closes his eyes in anguish. Louisa’s eyes also reveal her disgust with Margaret, her own despair and anguish with her marriage, and are equally as expressive. The emphasis placed on eyes in DM provides a vital component to the episodes.

Originally posted 2013-12-28 02:59:31.

One thought on “Eyes

  1. Amy

    I have been so moved watching how MC especially can use just the smallest change in his expression—usually his eyes since he rarely (never?) smiles—to convey such a wide range of emotions.

    One other observation about eyes: are most people in the UK blue-eyed? According to Wikipedia, about 50% of people in the UK have blue eyes as compared to about 16% in the US. On Doc Martin in S7, of the major characters only Bert and Penhale have dark eyes. Louisa, Martin, Ruth, Mrs Tishell, Al, Morwenna, James Henry, and Janice all are blue-eyed. Maybe this struck me as strange because I live in the US and also have brown eyes, but given the emphasis on eyes, as noted in the post, I guess it’s not surprising that I found myself noticing eye color.

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