Shaving Face: Five Beard-Shaving Scenes With Unexpected Symbolic Weight

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Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums, and more.

Chekhov famously said a gun in the first act will go off by the third. We say, less famously, that a beard in the first act will be shaved by the third. This Friday sees the release of Get Low, a new film with some festival-cred, starring Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, and, most importantly, Robert Duvall’s massive beard. Predictably, by the end of the film, the beard will be removed — with deep symbolic weight.

 This, however, is neither the first nor the last movie to feature a character-developing shave. Here are five shaves that advance both the plot and awesomeness of their movies:

Chuck Noland, Cast Away

Tom Hanks in Castaway

Winning the award for Most Foreboding Last Name Ever, Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) gets lost at sea before washing up on a deserted island, where he’ll remain for many years. On paper, this sounds like a particularly boring episode of Lost. But no paper — not even the fancy kind used for résumés — can translate the insanity of Noland’s beard, which, like the man behind it, only gets crazier throughout Cast Away. Upon his eventual, clean-shaved return to civilization, Noland sadly discovers that shaving his beard won’t win back the time it took to grow it.

Richie Tenenbaum, The Royal Tenenbaums

Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums

Richie’s unrequited love for his adopted sister, Margot, ended his life as a painter, his life as a tennis pro, and almost his life, period. When Richie learns of Margot’s many sexual indiscretions — including one involving his best friend — he cuts his hair, shaves his beard, and then slits his wrists. His beard — the last remnant from his days as a tennis star — has a Samson-like significance; shaving is the final act of capitulation. The scene is eerily set to Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay,” which, given the circumstances of that singer’s death, retroactively lends the scene further, unintended resonance.

“Papa,” The Road

Viggo Mortensen in The Road

This unnamed father’s gnarly, post-apocalyptic beard is a product of circumstance. Flashbacks confirm that the man (Viggo Mortensen) prefers to keep a clean face with, at most,  a dashing moustache. But in The Road, any activity requiring such selfish attention would likely result in dying or being eaten. So when he and his son find a (relatively) safe, well-stocked bunker, the ensuing shave scene offers a brief glimpse of optimism, as well as a quick break from the movie’s taut suspense.

Lila Jute, Human Nature

Patricia Arquette in Human Nature

Just as one would expect from something from a movie written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, this shave scene is surreal, symbol-laden, and part of a deeper commentary on the human condition. Patricia Arquette plays a genetic outlier whose body grows Teen Wolf-volumes of hair. Tired of being a freak, she decides to end her brief, lonely life in an intimate, candle-lit scene. Like the suicidal Tenenbaum, she takes a razor to her face before taking one to her wrists. She changes her mind, however, and drops the blade when a rather plucky mouse reminds her that “She is what she is.”

Ron Burgundy, Anchorman

Will Ferrell in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), the premiere newscaster of ‘70s San Diego, is well-known for his fetching moustache. But not even his famous follicles can stop the tide of feminism; his coveted job is eventually given to a former girlfriend. Dethroned and emasculated, the journalist roams aimlessly around town, chugging a carton of milk that inevitably leaks into his unemployment beard. Fortunately, an imminent panda birth demands the expert news coverage that only a veteran like Burgundy can provide. After ducking into a restroom, he emerges sans beard and triumphantly announces, “Good evening. I’m Ron Burgundy.”