When it comes to the “strong, silent” types, these characters embody that notion to an extreme. Lacking in dialogue apart from an occasional interjection or grunt via body language, these are some of the better known silent characters in pop culture. In the form of video games, often times this helps a gamer identify with its avatar, feeling more in-tuned to the story.
When it happens in film and television, this is often to lend a sense of mystery or uncertainty to the character, and we decided to gather together some of the most iconic silent protagonists from popular culture.
Chaplin’s most memorable film character, and an icon in the world for the last century, The Tramp is a childlike, good-hearted character who is often portrayed as a vagrant who tries his darndest to behave with manners, dignity, and gentlemanly candor despite his social status. Also a cunning grifter, Chaplin played the character for the better part of 25 years, starting in 1915 and ending with The Great Dictator in 1940.
Chaplin once explained how he came up with the look of the Tramp in the November 1933 issue of Woman’s Home Companion, titled: “A Comedian Sees the World”:
A hotel set was built for (fellow Keystone comic) Mabel Normand’s picture Mabel’s Strange Predicament and I was hurriedly told to put on a funny make-up. This time I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression. My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul—a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won’t let him.
Link – Legend of Zelda Series
The savior of Hyrule has been grunting and exclaiming without so much as a peep of a word since 1986. Link’s famed mission to save the titular princess of Hyrule from the evil Ganondorf is often regarded as one of the best game series in the medium, and he has (more or less) been a mute protagonist for 30 years (can we forgive him for the nonsensical joke he tells in Oracle of Ages?). And while his initial silence could be understandable given the technology at the time of his inception, Link has managed to more or less stay the same in the years since, developing only the occasional cry or shout for every new outing. It’s true that no fan wishes that Link would speak, and by the looks of it, his appearance, demeanor, and moral code all look to stay intact for years to come.
One-Eye – Valhalla Rising
Before heading back to the states, revitalizing his career with the neo-noir/Ryan Gosling-starrer Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn teamed with one of his oldest partners-in-crime, Mads Mikkelsen. In Valhalla Rising, Mikkelsen plays a Norse warrior known only as One-Eye. Traveling with a boy and a band of Christian Crusaders by ship in the hopes of finding the Holy Land, the film throws this group into an unknown land where they are assailed by unseen forces, dark visions, and violent ends. Mikkelsen’s One-Eye does not utter a word during the whole movie, and its the actor’s visceral physical power that calls one’s attention to Refn’s movie. Valhalla Rising is at times an ethereal and brutal film that garnered generally positive reviews upon release but didn’t muster much in audience reactions. It’s worth revisiting, just for the mute performance given by Mads Mikkelsen.
Snake Eye – G.I. Joe
One of the most popular members of the G.I. Joe team, Snake Eyes has appeared in every series of the franchise since its inception. Most recently portrayed by Darth Maul and “first” Toad, Ray Park, in the 2009 live-action film G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, and that film’s sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Snake Eyes is one of the most elusive of the Joe’s. Living a life of strict self-denial, and incredible training regimes, the character has had a long history of classified information. Little is known of his backstory apart from some specialty in the infantry, hand-to-hand combat and relationship with Storm Shadow, Stalker, and Scarlett. It was due to a helicopter explosion that Snake cannot speak, severing his vocal chords. He usually wears a black bodysuit, along with a balaclava and visor to cover his face. When out of his uniform, Snake Eyes is shown to be Caucasian with an athletic build, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Though some depictions in the past have had him speak, we still consider Snake Eyes one of the cool, silent types. One that appears to be getting his own movie very soon.
Black Bolt – Inhumans
Originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Bolt quietly strutted his stuff in issue #45 of Fantastic Four back in 1965. The ruler of the Inhumans, Black Bolt’s signature power is his incredible voice that can literally trigger massive disturbance and destructive shockwaves capable of blowing mountains away and leveling cities. Due to this incredibly dangerous power, Black Bold underwent rigorous mental training to prevent himself from uttering a sound, even while sleeping. He has usually remained completely silent, speaking through sign language or spokesperson, but once or twice writers have humored him with a little bit of speech (flashbacks are an easy get-out-of-jail-free card in comics). He was most recently brought to life in the live-action Marvel series, Inhumans, portrayed by Anson Mount (before becoming the new Pike on Star Trek: Discovery). However, many fans of Black Bolt and the comics, not to mention those who like quality TV, were left unenthused by the series and the actor’s portrayal.
Gordan Freeman – Half-Life
Back in 1998, Gordon Freeman had to fight off aliens from the dimension Xen when they start appearing in the Black Mesa Research facility, and he doesn’t say a word about it. He then saves humanity from the authorial police state instituted by the alien Combine in the sequel – still silent as a tomb. We still haven’t seen anything from Half-Life 3, but we can guess Freeman will probably continue to stay tight-lipped throughout that game as well. Swinging his crowbar and taking names is this mute protagonists repertoire even when he managed to command troops and essentially lead a rebellion without uttering a word. Here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of this voiceless hero whenever Valve decides the third entry is no longer stuck in development limbo.
Gromit – Wallace and Gromit
Wallace’s loyal and incredibly intelligent pet pooch may lack the ability to speak but still manages to get his opinions (mostly about his aloof master) across with plenty of clarity. This decidedly makes Gromit a perfect “straight man,” in which a reasonable and serious player is paired with a funny man of usually less intelligence. However, the two can always sit down with a nice cup of tea and some cheese and at the end of the day, it’s also a perfect pairing of man and dog. Creator Nick Park once said of Gromit: “We are a nation of dog-lovers and so many people have said: ‘My dog looks at me just like Gromit does!'” Too true.
Cassandra Cain – DC Comics
One of several women to take on the mantle of Batgirl, Cassandra Cain was created by Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott for issue #567 of Batman back in the summer of 1999. An orphan of assassins David Cain and Lady Shiva, Cassandra was deprived of speech and human contact during her childhood in which she was conditioned to become one of the world’s greatest assassins. Cassandra became a martial artist all while simultaneously reaming mute, developing limited social skills, and even being illiterate. Cassandra’s reputation among DC Comics is an interesting one. She was the first Batgirl to star in her own ongoing comic book series and has since returned to mainstream continuity after DC’s company-wide reboot with starring roles in Batman And Robin Eternal and Detective Comics, where she assumed the code name Orphan. Though Cassandra later developed social skills, thanks to Bruce and Co., we still consider the formidable assassin turned vigilante to be a strong contender for great Mute Protagonists.
The Haitian – Heroes
Yes, he spoke his first word in episode 11 of the first season titled “Fallout” but for that first glorious run on NBC, Heroes was something of a phenomenon. Played by Jimmy Jean-Louis, this character was only referred to on-screen as “The Haitian,” and figured through the first three seasons of the Tim King show about ordinary people who discover that they had superhuman abilities. With a close belief that superpowers are a gift from God, The Haitian was an aloof character for much of the series, complete with a feather necklace and the ability to selectively erase the memories of anyone he wishes, making him a powerful associate of both Noah Bennet and Eden McCain.
Crono – Chrono Trigger
Silent protagonists are a staple of RPGs, although many characters amass dialog through text, players usually infer their own personality and selves into the avatars. When it came to Chrono Trigger, you got some of the richest tales in gaming history featuring a fully and richly developed set of characters to interact with. However, the main protagonist, Crono, stays quiet throughout the story, gradually building up his powerful warriors and traveling through time to stop Lavos. Apart from the select dialogue option by the player, Crono takes on the end of the world without saying a word, making him one of the most unique yet recognizable characters in video games.
Which mute protagonist did we miss in the world of fiction? Any of your favorites or glaring omissions? Head on over to the official GEEK FB page and let us know!
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