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You see this a lot in video games: a silent protagonist who can somehow communicate with the rest of the world with seemingly no or few words. Usually, it's hand-waved away by simply assuming from the player that they know the protagonist and the other person understand each other somehow, even if one of them isn't saying much.

I want to incorporate a "silent" protagonist into my story. The reason is that he's an alien who can't really speak the language of the people he visits on foreign planets. The way he communicates is by pointing at things of interest, doing certain gestures or showing images of things on his smartphone-like device. He is also very expressive, so you can tell most of the time in what kind of mood he is or how he perceives what he's told, such as being annoyed when someone asks a stupid question. Most of the people he talks to seem to innately understand him despite his unusual method of communicating. There is no specific explanation to that, so no weird telepathic powers he uses on people, or anything. He does however communicate telepathically with his own kind.

Could a silent protagonist like that work in a visual medium, like a movie or tv series? Are there any good examples I could look into to get a better idea on how I could implement such a protagonist?

  • It would help if you could say what medium specifically you are aiming at. You mention "visual medium" at the end, but the question reads like you are contrasting it with video games, which are also visual. – user23425 Feb 1 at 16:41
  • @Weathervane Changed it. I wanted to phrase the question more like "this works for one kind of visual medium (video games), does it work for other visual mediums, too?" – noClue Feb 1 at 16:47
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    Check out Silent Movies from pre-1937 Hollywood. – Henry Taylor Feb 1 at 16:55
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    @HenryTaylor But everyone's silent in those, aren't they? Kinda misses the point of my question. – noClue Feb 1 at 16:56
  • Example: Norma from Orange is the New Black (TV series only). – Cyn Feb 3 at 1:38
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In visual media - there's been a few that have worked quite well (either with limited vocalizations, indecipherable vocalizations or none).

Some noteworthy examples - Groot (from Guardians of The Galaxy), and Chewbacca (from Star Wars) both have limited vocalizations that are indecipherable to the viewer but can be inferred by the reactions of other characters who understand them.

Silent Bob (from Clerks), as his name implies is largely silent - communicating mainly through gestures and expressions (although in some films he does occasionally speak)

It's more difficult to do if the character is the main protagonist as it's harder for the viewer to relate to them effectively - they tend to work better when they have others to play off and can be exceptionally effective when lined up alongside a particularly chatty character.

That said they can be done as a main protagonist to great effect - the example that comes to mind is Wall-E (from the film of the same name), in this case though there is very little dialogue in the film so isn't quite the same as what you are looking for.

  • BoJack Horseman also has a very well done mostly silent episode. S3E4. – FFN Feb 1 at 18:17
  • Another protagonist with very little dialogue is Mr. Bean. – celtschk Feb 1 at 19:24
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I would take a look at the Fourth Season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" which has a sequence without dialog that runs for 27 minutes, nearly the bulk of the episode. Other characters to watch should be Bumblebee (from the titular movie), R2-D2, and perhaps Iron Giant (he learns to talk, but he mostly mimics Hogarth's visual cues more than his vocal cues at first).

For your actors, stress overly emotive physical actions and facial expressions. You can't tie an eye roll to any spoken content, but really rolling their eyes at someone is all you need.

Edit: Wall-E was largely written to be a movie with as little dialog from the main characters as possible.

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