At the recent Apple Event, the tech company introduced a new iPhone that offered a facial recognition security feature to replace the thumbprint matching that previous models of the iPhone had utilized to unlock the phone. And while the ambitious choice was praised by some, others mocked it for the various ways it could be exploited – like scanning your face as you slept or (jokingly) literally stealing your face. The problem is that the main point of reference for “face stealing” was Arya Stark / Jaqen H’ghar from Game of Thrones – aka the Faceless Men, a league of expert assassins who can take on the appearance of anyone whose face they’ve taken.
While I understand the popularity of Game of Thrones (and Arya Stark’s faceswapping ways, in particular), this is bullshit. The default reference for stealing faces should be and should ALWAYS be the 1997 John Travolta/Nicolas Cage action-thriller, Face/Off. Here’s why:
1. Face/Off actually has an explanation for why Castor Troy can sound like Sean Archer and vice-versa
In Game of Thrones, there is really no satisfying explanation for how Arya or Jaqen can take on the ENTIRE APPEARANCE of those they’re impersonating, right down to their mannerisms and voice. And while you could chalk up the mannerisms to the Faceless Men being versatile and studious, there’s really no way to explain why friggin’ Arya Stark can sound exactly like an 80 year old man. Frankly, it’s sloppy.
Face/Off – however – understands that this is a major plothole and made sure to resolve it right from the start, by explaining that the surgeon who had transferred faces between FBI Special Agent Sean Archer and domestic terrorist Castor Troy had also implanted a microchip in Archer’s larynx to make his voice sound like Troy’s. See? FACE/OFF CARES ABOUT REAL, ACTUAL SCIENCE.
Basically, Face/Off took face-stealing SERIOUSLY (as it deserves to be taken).
2. Arya just has a bag of loose faces and just slides them on, unlike the precision surgical work of Dr. Malcolm Walsh (he’s the doctor in Face/Off, FYI)
How do the Faceless Men pop into their new faces so quickly? They just seem to have loose bags of faces, with no extra make-up or adhesives to make the faces stick to their normal faces and appear natural. Hell, the fact that they’re keeping their original faces and putting new faces ON TOP OF EXISTING FACES alone should disqualify Game of Thrones from the face-stealing reference game entirely (that’s TWO sets of eyelids to blink!), but I digress.
Face/Off doesn’t treat face-stealing so lightly – when FBI Special Agent Sean Archer wants to take his archnemesis’ face, he understands that pulling off such an audacious stunt was far outside his expertise…which is why they brought in the talented surgeon, Dr. Malcolm Walsh, who used his expert skills and cutting-edge technology to perfectly implant Castor Troy’s face onto Sean Archer’s skull. To think that the person swapping faces could handle it themselves AND make it look seamless is, simply put, unrealistic.
Unlike Face/Off, which is extremely realistic and down-to-earth.
3. Face/Off is literally exclusively about stealing someone’s face for deceptive purposes and nothing else
Game of Thrones is about a lot of things – the quest for power, the value of family, the dangers of politics, using time-travel mind powers to watch your sister get violated and then later tell her about it for some reason, etc. And, also, it does feature some face-stealing. But, if we’re being honest, the face-stealing aspect is maybe 10% of the show (and that’s being generous). Mayyyybe it constitutes 10%, and – as we mentioned – the face-stealing is PRETTY SLOPPY in execution. Like, we’re talking C- face-stealing.
Face/Off – on the other hand – is approximately 85% about face-stealing (the opening act doesn’t have much face-stealing, but then it’s ALL face-stealing afterwards). Face/Off is so committed to being about face-stealing that the title of the film is literally Face/Off. It’s so dedicated to being about face-stealing and using the ability to face-steal to deceive others that the two stars engage in almost nothing but that for the majority of the film.
What I’m saying is – Face/Off has EARNED its place as the default reference for face-stealing. Game of Thrones has enough popularity as it is, it doesn’t need to also corner the face-stealing reference market.