Roland Barthes, in his essay, ‘The face of Garbo‘ found that the presentation of Greta Garbo’s face – in the perfection of its beauty – resembled a mask of antiquity; in consequence it approximated a Platonic Idea of the human. It seemed to have been fashioned in heaven. Overall, Garbo represented the cool essence of rational beauty. In contrast Audrey Hepburn’s look – her charm – reflected a certain quirkiness and the idiosyncrasy of actual individual existence. Both, of course, were extremely beautiful.
But what of the supremely expressive beauty of Keira Knightley? Maybe it is a synthesis of Garbo and Hepburn: perfect – yet marked by certain seductive particularities. Her face, though, evades the mask: it is too sensitive, too human. She presents to the viewer a moment in cinema that resists the environing culture of vulgarity. Knightley’s face escapes the cage of language; beyond words, its manifestation delights, an au dela face, a face that stills – then moves – the soul.
Note: These paragraphs are taken from a longer essay on portrayals of the face in portraiture.