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Inscrutable Characterizations…

July 24, 2013

Inscrutable – definition : difficult to fathom or understand : mysterious


When I came across this word, I wondered why people from the far East have been portrayed as inscrutable in movies for decades. This lead to some research on my part.

It transpires that the root of this stereotype probably began with the Western colonialists. Primarily because of a reluctance to understand the native social conventions. The indigenous people‘s unwillingness to visually express emotions was seen as inscrutable and therefore they were not treated as equals. All of us can picture a movie character that typifies this stereotype. Maybe a more famous male character is the ultimate ‘evil’ and uncompromising,  Fu Manchu.  While the Asian female is portrayed either as the Dragon Lady or the China Doll – two opposing views but nevertheless both acceptable portrayals.


Even relatively modern movies fall into this trap. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for example has the female heroine,  portrayed as stoic in her dealings with her adversaries. However, if a character is handled positively they come across as being cool, calm and collected and more often than not a source of wisdom. The negative flip side portrays a dour, dull, uptight and seemingly boring character, unable to experience leisure or fun.

The social mannerism of ”maintaining face’ attributes to the stereotype and can also typify the British ‘stiff upper lip’ of WW1 & WW11 movies. No matter the obstacle to overcome or the punishments endured, the characters solider on. Remember The Great Escape?

Which inscrutable character comes to mind for you?


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