Bryan Zepp Jamieson
August 24th 2023
The Trump mugshot was a shot seen ’round the world. Few who have seen it have been able to avoid interpreting the lowered-head scowl of Trump, seen variously as being in a fit of psychotic rage, scared to death, or defiant.
A meme all over social media mentions “the Kubrick glare,” or “the Kubrick stare.” It’s a favorite way the famed director Stanley Kubrick had of portraying one of his lead actors in a state of decompensation and sheer malice, described as “a heavy-browed look of insanity”. Think of Jack in The Shining. Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. For the first two actors mentioned (Jack Nicholson and Malcolm McDowell) they became career-defining images, and doubtlessly those demented glares contributed to the success of their films.
It probably wasn’t the look Trump was aiming for. His followers insist the look is one of defiance, and I suspect that was what he had in mind. And he based that on another iconic and world-famous photograph of a politician, the “Thundering Lion” image of Sir Winston S. Churchill.
The picture shows a seated Churchill glowering at the camera, and many people have inferred, from the time the photograph was taken (December 30th, 1941) that Churchill was trying to project courage and defiance.
Indeed, Churchill wanted to project that. While Britain had successfully fended off the planned German invasion (The Battle of Britain, aka “The Blitz”) some six months earlier, Churchill knew that he had to get the Americans to join in because otherwise the respite was only temporary. So he went to his ally, Canada, (at that point already actively fighting alongside Britain for two years) to harden resolve in the Canadian parliament, and by extension, persuade a reluctant US Congress.
Churchill did give a characteristically marvelous speech to the House of Commons, a speech famed in itself for his disparaging comments about the Petain regime in semi-occupied France. (“When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, ‘In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.’ Some chicken! Some neck!”) But it is that image that is instantly recognized over 80 years later. (The signed original hung in Ottawa’s famed Château Laurier until December of 2020, when someone stole it.)
But defiance wasn’t what Churchill was trying to project when Yousuf Karsch snapped his shutter. It was more along the line of baffled, incredulous outrage over a sudden act of temerity against the Prime Minister.
Churchill had one of his stogies going, and Karsch didn’t want the smoke obscuring the image. He asked Churchill if he would set the cigar aside. Churchill refused. So just before the camera went off, Karsch darted in and snatched the cigar right out from Churchill’s mouth! What the camera caught was a look of amazed shock on Churchill’s face.
Yes, cameras lie. The image became synonymous with British resolve and cemented Churchill’s image as a heroic figure facing down the Nazi foe. You can recreate the photo just by walking up to any random baby and snatching the num-num from its mouth. Although if mum is nearby, you risk, in the words of some unfortunate French general, getting your “neck wrung like a chicken.”
Churchill himself admiringly remarked Karsch could “even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed,” which led, somewhat inexplicably, to the title of the photo.
I think Trump was trying to recreate the image of defiance that Thundering Lion evokes. But like most things Trump, he got it ass backwards. Churchill wasn’t feeling resolute at that instant; he was about to have a tantrum.
Trump wanted to project resolve and defiance. Instead, he looks like he’s about to have a tantrum. Someone stole his num-num.
I suspect that Trump practices a lot of his facial expressions in the mirror. A lot of sociopaths do, in an effort to appear more human and less unco. Trump, however, didn’t practice this one very much. That, or he was so rattled at having his mug shot taken (the emotional equivalent of some commoner ripping a cigar out of his mouth) that he wound up looking like a man who had just plotzed and was hoping his Depends would contain the odor.
It wasn’t his Churchillian moment. It was, if anything, his anti-Churchillian moment. Whatever that grimace was, it wasn’t calm determination. It was the opposite of calm determination. It was a man about to lose his shit.
It was the Kubrick stare, only he wasn’t acting.