Hollywood films that offered an insight into their on-screen characters through tattoos

Sep 07, 2014, 06:02 IST | Shakti Shetty

For many years now, Hollywood has been churning out films with actors sporting intricate, beautiful tattoos -- which are temporary, of course -- that speak volumes about the characters they portray on screen

Recent Bollywood movies have had actors sporting eye-catching tattoos. Be it Alia Bhatt (Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania), Sidharth Malhotra (Ek Villain) or Ranveer Singh (Ram Leela), a lot of actors — and not just the newcomers — are more than willing to flash tattoos in films.

However, this particular trend has its roots in American cinema. For many years now, Hollywood has been churning out films with actors sporting intricate, beautiful tattoos — which are temporary, of course — that speak volumes about the characters they portray on screen. hitlist points out a few of them.

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
The Broken Circle Breakdown
Felix Van Groeningen
Lowdown: In one fascinating scene, the smitten husband asks his wife for the reason behind her multiple tattoos. As expected, she doesn't reply. But her body does, especially during the heartbreaking climax. Every significant event of her life, be it a broken relationship or her daughter's death, is documented as a souvenir in the form of a tattoo. A tattoo artist, she's shown inking herself most of the time.

The Rover (2014)
The Rover
David Michôd
Lowdown: In his breakthrough role, Robert Pattinson plays a character with a criminal past. His upper back is inked with initials to show the gang he is affiliated to. His shoulder has a sculpture tattoo, while there is a snake-on-a-cross tattoo on his abdomen.

Elysium (2013)
Neill Blomkamp
Lowdown: After being exposed to fatal radiation in this dystopian film, Matt Damon's character turns into a fighter. The tattoos on his chiselled bod stand for the things he believed in as an ex-criminal. Oh yes, there's one dedicated to the hope of making it into the world of Elysium.

The Counselor (2013)
The Counselor
Ridley Scott
Lowdown: From the very first scene of this thriller, it becomes evident that Cameron Diaz's character is a woman of substance. And that she'll have things her way. The heavy pugmark tattoos on her back speak about her agility with sharp words and shrewd thoughts.

Out of the Furnace (2013)
Out of the Furnace
Scott Cooper
Lowdown: Casey Affleck returns home from the Iraq War only to find himself disillusioned about his future. He also has debts to clear. In the end, he's left with nothing but a job in no-holds-barred fistfights. His multi-lingual tattoos depict his tough time as an army man.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
The Place Beyond the Pines
Derek Cianfrance
Lowdown: Apparently, Ryan Gosling asked this film's director to let him have "the most number of tattoos in cinematic history". Going by Gosling's torso and arms in the film, the director must have fulfilled the actor's wish. There are tattoos everywhere — even the corner of his eye.

Warrior (2011)
Gavin O'Connor
Lowdown: Two estranged brothers – one a family man (Joel Edgerton) while the other, a beastlike gentleman (Tom Hardy) — are going to have a face off. And they are reluctant fighters. Inside the ring, Hardy's tattoos set him apart from his brother.

Hangover Part II (2011)
Hangover Part II
Todd Phillips
Lowdown: When Mike Tyson got himself tattooed, we wondered how ironical it is for a boxer to 'ruin' his own face! However, Ed Helms' character thought otherwise as he payed homage to him — unwittingly — when he gets inked in similar fashion.

Incendies (2010)
Denis Villeneuve
Lowdown: Can you think of a movie where innumerable puzzles are solved with just one tattoo in the final scene? Well, we can. This Oscar-winning feature about family and incest does so. Lesson learnt: Exposed tattoos help understand human relationships.

Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman
Lowdown: In this postmodern drama, body art turns metaphorical in an unforgettable sequence involving the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. His character confronts his dying daughter whose heavily-inked arm shows a rose petal peeling off as she forgives him.

Eastern Promises (2007)
Eastern Promises
David Cronenberg
Lowdown: Viggo Mortensen read books on Russian gangs and the importance of tattoos in their culture. After all, he was playing a reticent gang member in this crime saga. Each tattoo on his body has a story behind it but the ones he gets on his knees could prove to be his death knell.

Apocalypto (2006)
Mel Gibson
Lowdown: Remember how every single army men in the spectacular film 300 (2007) boasted of six-pack abs? Similarly, in this Native American tribal epic, all — each one of the actors — boast of body art. They are everywhere from face to limbs — not an inch has been spared.

Snatch (2000)
Guy Ritchie
Lowdown: Brad Pitt's Irish accent in this crime comedy, featuring a fantastic cast, was more convincing than the one he adopted in The Devil's Own (1997). Pitt's character didn't miss an opportunity to flash his tattoos in front of the camera.

Wanted (2008)
Timur Bekmambetov
Lowdown: Angelina Jolie has never played a meaner role in an action film. And her characters in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Salt (2010) can take a walk. In Wanted, she is the last person to be trusted. And those exotic tattoos surely helped the case. Hailing from a destroyed home where she witnessed her father's murder as a little girl and later leads a life filled with blood and vengeance, A-Jolie's assassin sports some of the coolest and intriguing body art by an actress. And guess what, most of them are real ones.

Memento (2000)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Lowdown: Just like Nolan's much-acclaimed Inception (2010), this film too is all about time and travel. Guy Pearce portrays a helpless man who doesn't remember anything vivid about his past. In a quest to understand what really went wrong he relies on tattoos for putting the pieces together.

Blast from the past

There have been sporadic instances of tattoo-clad characters in Hollywood films during the second half of last century

The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The Night of the Hunter
Thanks to his splendid performance and body art, Robert Mitchum made finger tattoos cool long before guitar-clad rock stars began to ink initials on their digits.

The Illustrated Man (1960)
The Illustrated Man
Several actors rejected the protagonist's role in this big screen adaptation. This was before Rod Steiger agreed to spend more than 15 hours a day on body art make-up.

Tattoo (1981)
Bruce Dern played a psychotic tattoo artist who falls for a woman he later kidnaps and inks while she's fast asleep. His character keeps getting weirder. Spoiler: She kills him with his tattoo needle.

Cape Fear (1991)
Cape Fear
If it weren't for the broken heart tattoo on his chest and the grand truth-and-justice tattoo on his back, it might have been a bit difficult to sympathise with Robert De Niro's Max.

American History X (1998)
American History X
Edward Norton pumped up to play a neo-Nazi who turns a new leaf after going to prison. In one peculiar scene, he regretfully looks at the Swastika tattoo on his chest.

Waterworld (1995)
Kevin Costner might be the hero of this adventure film but the little kid has all the answers. Her back has an engraved map that will save a lot of trouble for the good as well as the bad guys.

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