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The Perils of Resting Bastard Face

Quentin Tarantino looked mad when he lost a film award — but there's more to his flinty facade

I don’t watch award shows for a very simple reason: They’re boring as shit. I can only imagine they’re even duller when you’re a big name in the relevant industry and are forced each year to put on expensive formalwear to sit through one in person. And god help you if that industry is film, because they have like 20 different goddamn prize ceremonies. What do people do with all these trophies? And more importantly, how do they stay awake through the congratulatory pomp? Being nominated over and over again seems like a true “be careful what you wish for” deal. 

This feels especially true of noted auteur Quentin Tarantino, who I’m sure doesn’t mind being recognized for his work but would probably rather watch some good movies than fly to London and clap for them. But, because his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood racked up 10 Bafta nominations, that’s what he had to do. In the end, his love letter to the L.A. of the late 1960s scored just a single win — Brad Pitt as supporting actor. Meanwhile, Bong Joon-ho had a nice evening, with his class warfare thriller Parasite coming out on top as best film not in the English language and best original screenplay, beating Tarantino, among others, in that category. As Joon-ho took to the stage to accept the award with co-writer Han Jin Won, the camera lit upon Quentin for a reaction shot and found him looking rather… disgruntled. And folks did take notice.

The funniest thing about this apparent case of terminal jealousy is that, apart from being an extremely popular and decorated filmmaker — he’s twice won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay — Tarantino also loves Bong Joon-ho, and Korean cinema in general. The two directors appear to be good friends, Tarantino having championed his colleague’s movies as some of the best made in this century. He even likened Bong to “Spielberg in his prime” back in 2013. Their mutual admiration long ago reached the level of a creative “love affair.” And yet a few seconds of a thousand-yard stare during the Baftas has the media describing Tarantino as a perennial sore loser. It probably doesn’t help that when Tarantino wins an award, Bong is all smiles and ready to snap a photo. Assuming Quentin isn’t actually pissed to see his pal succeed, we’re forced to diagnose this incident as a case of jet lag plus Resting Bastard Face.  

You surely remember “Resting Bitch Face,” a meme and condition coined more than a decade ago but most talked about circa 2015, when it briefly captured mainstream attention. The earliest Urban Dictionary entry, dating to 2009, defined it this way: “A person, girl especially, whose regular facial expression makes them look like a bitch.”

In time, neuroscientists would take the idea seriously enough to study it with face-reading software, ultimately finding that the perception of RBF was down to higher trace amounts of “emotionality” in the “underlying expression” of an otherwise neutral face — almost ineffable hints of scorn or contempt in the turn of a mouth or squint of an eye. The scientists also noted, in accordance with both the actual term and its accepted meaning, that RBF is typically observed in women, not men, hinting at a gender bias in how we interpret faces. It’s a way of saying, “You’d be prettier if you smiled.”

Thankfully, “Resting Bitch Face” and its sexist overtones didn’t quite make it into the #MeToo era, and now it’s something of a cringe-y throwback. The problem is that men never got their comeuppance for it, nor did the culture get a closer analysis of what differentiates the male version of the phenomenon. As a guy who only knows how to brood in selfies and hates to smile for any photo, though, I believe I’m decently qualified to explain Resting Bastard Face. For one thing, it tends to ruin first impressions, particularly when combined with a shy disposition; whereas we demand that women be bright and beaming, if not necessarily speaking, we expect men to do more than their share of talking, and so their silence grants them a stony, uninterested air.

There’s definitely boredom to Tarantino’s RBF — he didn’t win the award, so he doesn’t have to be in the moment, and he’s free to think about the kebab he’ll grab on the way back to the hotel later on. Theoretically, he could cheer his buddy Bong, yet that would require some effort. Maybe he’s processing the loss, calculating what it augurs for the Academy Awards on Sunday, when they’ll compete once more in the Original Screenplay field, and that self-absorption is another critical component to Resting Bastard Face. While a woman with Resting Bitch Face is seen to be coldly judging those in her orbit, or even plotting their downfall, the man with Resting Bastard Face is more concerned with his own status and future gain, lost in a version of reality where he is the protagonist. Quentin may not begrudge Bong a Bafta, but he will consider what it means for him before remembering that a Parasite victory deserves his fond attention.

This zoned-out aspect feeds the final ingredients of Resting Bastard Face, which are a patina of male fragility and the suggestion of deep anger. The interpretive default to brittle, hostile masculine energy when contemplating a dude’s expression is what allows viewers to assume that Tarantino is fuming as opposed to merely oblivious. With Resting Bitch Face, you don’t picture the woman losing her temper — she’ll either cut you down with a sharp remark or venomously ask to see the manager. A man, however, is primed to snap, and who knows what could happen then! What are his true colors? What ugly possibilities flit through his head, or take harbor in his darkest heart? The bastard is capable of spectacular violence, as Tarantino’s oeuvre amply demonstrates. He is a man on the edge. Everything that is composed and controlled in a bitch is off-leash in a bastard. You just have to hope it doesn’t run straight at you.      

Anyway, hope that clears things up about Tarantino’s face, which is what it is and not entirely subject to his control. (His acting performances back this up.) To more fully test this hypothesis, we’d have to scan his features when he’s shown a nice pair of feet, then map the contrast with his RBF.

All I ask is to not be present when this goes down.