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On the big or small screen, if someone falls over motionless with their eyes wide open, it is a sure sign that they are dead--not unconscious, not capable of being resuscitated, but Killed Off for Real. In real life, of course, the position of the eyelids means nothing; people can in fact pass out or even just fall asleep with their eyes open.
Additionally, dead bodies always have their eyes either closed or all the way open, with no middle ground. (Again, this stands in contrast to reality, but nobody wants a dead body making a weird face. Not to mention that it's hard for an actor to have half-closed eyes without flickering.) In the latter case, someone who knew the deceased will often come along and manually close the corpse's eyes for "respect" or "dignity". This is always done the same way - using the palm flat open, they pass their hand over the dead person's face, somehow closing their eyes. Nearly everyone does this. Occasionally, the friend will also put two coins over their closed eyes as well, to "pay the boatman" to take them across the river Styx into the afterlife. See Due to the Dead.
The above is universally true of live-action, but Anime occasionally depicts someone fainting with open eyes (Mikado Sanzenin of Ranma ½ is an example), or dying with half-closed eyes. Open-eyed deaths in anime often have the iris/pupil area of the eye drawn as a dull grayish spot, similar to some types of Mind Control Eyes. In Western animation, death is rare, visible dead bodies even rarer, and open-eyed corpses unheard of. Except in animated Batman movies, of course. In many Western (not as in Cowboy movies) action films, people will often die with eyes wide open when they are killed by surprise.
Note that -- perhaps because of Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Death -- frequently it rains into the eyes. That is the clinching proof of death.
If a character's eyes close when they die, it's Big Sleep.
Anime and Manga
- Anime subversion: In Rose of Versailles when Jeanne Valois is publicly branded as a criminal, she faints with her eyes wide open--a fact that creeps out many of the spectators who had come to gawk at her.
- Azumanga Daioh has one episode where Osaka pulls off Chiyo-chan's pigtails... only to have her keel over dead with her eyes wide open. Don't worry though; it's All Just a Dream.
- Used in Death Note, with Mello's death.
- Also Light's death in the manga.
- Kyuzo from Samurai 7 dies with his eyes open. Kambei takes his glove off to close them.
- Subversion: in the final arc of Ranma 1/2, if Akane's eyes close completely it means she has died. They do, and Ranma spends several pages cradling her body, thinking he was too late. She got better upon hearing his declaration of love.
- The Combat Cyborg Due from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha exhibited both this trope and Blood From the Mouth upon getting impaled by Zest to show that she's really dead.
- In Naruto, after Kakashi kills Haku by striking him with the Lightning Blade meant for Zabuza, he dies with his eyes wide open, and Kakashi closes them for him after getting to safety for a moment. Most other characters, however, close their eyes as they die.
- Except Itachi, whose eyes remain open. It also rains, but there's no indication of rain-in-the-eyes.
- Despite being a story about a serial killer, where you'd expect to find Dies Wide Shut, this trope remains averted in Shounen Zanzou, where the expressions of Adrian Clay's victims' corpses are never seen because he covers them with tape. The only ones we see are his mother's which look more like a mix of anger and fear, and Lawrence Hill's eyes are half-closed.
- The 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist has Edward die with his eyes wide open. He probably didn't even had time to blink given the manner in which he was killed.
- We actually see his eyes go foggy as he dies for real. He gets better, though.
- In Battle Royale, this is actually a more common type of death than the peaceful closed eyes death. Understandable, considering most of the people are killed by unexpectedly getting shot in the head. The more memorable one of this type is Mimura's.
- In the novel, just before he leaves the classroom, Shuuya asks to close his best friend's eyes (His friend had lost his temper and was shot). The teacher obliges. Once Shuuya leaves, he immediately regrets not closing the eyes of another student killed in the classroom. Also, in Mimura's case, it's a bit justified, Since he died while he was leaving a message.
- In Ginga Densetsu Weed and possibly its prequel series, almost every character that dies has their eyes open.
- Charles Beams dies this way in Eureka Seven.
- Havock in Darker Than Black.
- In Black Butler Madam Red dies like this. After the initial shock Ciel shuts the deceased's eyes.
- Bleach Ichigo apparently has scenes like this, a lot. Just that he's always Not Exactly Dead...
- Yuzu in the 4th movie
- Averted by Black Lagoon, which shows the concussed Revy with half-closed eyes.
- The first victim of the mysterious and highly lethal plague shown in Emerging was found dead with his eyes still open... made more gruesome by the fact that they were almost completely blackened from all the blood vessels having burst, and partially liquefied from the extremely high fever he suffered prior to his death.
- In Kaze to Ki no Uta, Gilbert dies this way.
- The Negima! anime combines this with the Dull Eyes of Unhappiness in Asuna's death.
- In Full Metal Panic, during TSR, Gauron dies in this manner. Which makes him all the more unnerving, considering he also died with a Slasher Smile, looking maniacally happy at Sousuke.
- In later works by Akira Toriyama, especially Dragon Ball Z, people who die with their eyes open will have no pupils. (examples: everywhere!) Grayish or rough pupils mean critical injury/dying but not yet dead. (example: Yamucha after being impaled by Dr. Gero in the Android saga)
- Zancrow becomes one of the few deaths in Fairy Tail this way. His killer is nice enough to shut his eyes for him afterward.
- A lot of characters in Elfen Lied die this way, due to the fact that they're usually in mid-action when killed. Along with the fact that they're being killed by something they can't see, and that about half of the people killed don't even know exists.
- Averted with the deaths of Kurama and Mariko; since they know what's about to happen to them, they close their eyes tightly and brace themselves.
- Averted in Inuyasha - as the resident brick, Inuyasha has a tendency to get the tar beaten out of him whenever a sufficiently powerful Monster of the Week appears - to show he's been seriously injured, he'll often be knocked out with his eyes open and unreflective, but never dead.
- Near every single corpse in Detective Conan is found like this, to the point of Narm. At some point the anime started to avert thsi via explicitly showing the victims with their eyes closed.
- People killed by the Joker, especially by his Joker Venom (which is justified in that it pulls back the muscles of the face), often die with their eyes open to enhance the creepy effects of his methods. As noted above, this extends to points in the DCAU where he was allowed to kill, usually the animated movies.
- In All Fall Down, this is Sophie's last panel.
- In one story from the Mellon Chronicles series of Lord of the Rings fanfiction, a wounded Legolas rests with his eyes closed for a time, and when Aragorn notices, he freaks out for a moment, believing the elf to be dead - as far as he understands it, elves rest with eyes open.
- The idea of elves not sleeping in the same way as humans comes from the one example given through Legolas in the LotR. It is debated whether this can be taken as the general style of sleeping for elves, another form of resting distinct from sleep, or due to the circumstances.
- Averted in Chapter 16 of Tiberium Wars, where a GDI soldier finds himself staring at the face of a dead female soldier, whose eyes are half-lidded in death.
- Stars Above: Tsukasa and Kazumi die this way in the 2012 timeline.
- The French soldier that Baumer stabs dies like this in All Quiet on the Western Front.
- Psycho. Poor Marion.
- Frenzy. Poor Brenda.
- All the bad guys in Die Another Day (except Zao who died offscreen) died with open eyes.
- Almost every character killed on screen in the Harry Potter saga died with his eyes open. Justified in those characters killed by the Avada Kedavra curse, since they were dead before they hit the floor. Poor Cedric
- Pod People was especially ridiculous with this idea. Even a girl who had been comatose for a couple of days, with her eyes firmly shut, died with her eyes open.
- Subversion: The film Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle depicted the lead characters being shot or in big crashes, falling motionless with their eyes wide open... and then they blink and wake up; they were only unconscious.
- A similar subversion occurs near the end of the first Back to The Future film, when Doc is shot by the Libyans while, unbeknownst to Marty (and the audience), he is wearing a bulletproof vest.
- Ratso Rizzo's death on the bus in Midnight Cowboy
- Used in Waking Ned Divine. Ned dies of shock with his eyes open after winning the lottery, and people try to disguise the lottery win as part of a clever plan. They drew the sides of his mouth down, so he'd look sad, but his eyes showed his happiness so they were forced to close them.
- Ray Brower the MacGuffin dead body in Stand By Me was found by the boys to have died with his eyes open. They covered his face with the debris he was found in when they realized who serious the situation truly was.
- Drag Me to Hell, when the medium dies.
- Shimi Skywalker in Attack of the Clones dies with her eyes open and Anakin tenderly closes them before his Unstoppable Rage kicks in.
- The Colonel in Valkyrie, sort of.
- An odd variation in The Dark Knight-- Two-Face pulls this, but only because he has no eyelid.
- Everyone who dies in Nine dies with their eyes and their mouths wide open. Justified, seeing the method of death is having their souls forcibly sucked out through their eyes and mouth.
- In the original ending to Clerks, Dante dies with his eyes open.
- Dead Man Walking: Matthew Poncelet's eyes fall shut when the anesthetic kicks in, then flick open when he expires.
- The body Chunk is locked in the freezer with in The Goonies.
- The victims of serial killer O'Ryan in Suspect Zero are all found with at least one eye open. This is justified by the fact that the killer cuts off their eyelids after killing them.
- Levasseur in Captain Blood.
- In Devil, one of the victims dies like this. When another one tries to close them, they stay open, and he's told that it doesn't work until someone's been dead for a couple of hours.
- Shoshanna in Inglourious Basterds.
- Nina at the end of Black Swan. Possibly -- like everything else in this film, it depends on your interpretation.
- Jim in A Single Man.
- Red Tails: Lightning dies this way after coughing up Blood From the Mouth. Easy follows his plane most of the way down to the ground while screaming at him to pull up.
- Both Hugo and David in Shallow Grave. When the flatmates go to bury Hugo's corpse, the eyes appear to be staring up at David even as he's about to smash the face in. Later David also dies with his eyes open, and they remain open even as he's taken to the mortuary.
- Subverted creepily in JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers: Pippin sneaks over to have a go on Gandalf's new palantir. He gets a fright when he sees Gandalf looking at him, but no, Gandalf's just asleep. Earlier in the same volume, Legolas is sleeping - with his eyes open.
- In the case of Legolas, he's not actually sleeping. Elves don't sleep, at least not the way mortals do.
- In Iron Fist, Ton Phanan finally dies with his eyes open and a look of wonder on his face. Granted, one is a prosthetic and can't close. Face closes his organic eye after he dies, before immolating the corpse with his TIE Interceptor.
- In The Odyssey, Agamemnon tells Odysseus:
As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, a woman is mortally wounded striving to be one of Arkio's chosen soldiers. Sachiel assures her that her children are proud of her, mercy-kills her with a weapon meant for Space Marines, and closes her eyes when she dies.
- Later Sachiel himself is lying in the battlefield, with rain falling in his open eyes.
- In Lonesome Dove, Deets dies like this after getting mistaken by the Native Americans as about to kidnap a blind child, but he was Just Trying to Help in the most heart-wrenching way.
- Dobby in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. During his funeral, Luna pushes his eyelids shut so it "looks like he's sleeping."
Live Action TV
- The main villain of Sherlock, Jim Moriarty, not only shot himself through the mouth in front of Sherlock Holmes, but did it as part of a game of Xanatos Roulette. His body is shown to be smiling as well as wide-eyed.
- Subverted in episode of Law and Order SVU. Alex Cabot is thought to be killed, but turns up alive at the end of the episode.
- Law and Order UK when Matt Devlin was shot. The final frame of the episode was of his eyes, wide open. What makes this especially wrenching is that he was clearly still alive at this point, giving viewers hope that he might survive. Sadly, it was not to be.
- Lost uses a motif of characters dying with their eyes open, and other characters closing them as a sign of finality or respect for the dead.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Buffy find Joyce Summers lying on a couch after her sudden death with wide-open eyes. The episode makes a point of NOT having anyone close Joyce's eyes for her; they remain open throughout the episode. The episode also opens each act with a shot of Joyce's corpse in which her eyes are staring right at the viewer.
- On In Plain Sight, Mary goes to the crime scene and finds one of her victims dead. When she goes to shut his eyes a woman who we can assume is a detective or from forensics says "Hey don't touch that." Mary asks if they can close his eyes and she replies only if she has a needle and thread.
- Doctor Who:
- Martha Jones closes Mr. Stoker's eyes as a mark of respect after his blood is drained by a Plasmavore in "Smith and Jones".
- The Doctor closes Professor Lazarus's eyes in "The Lazarus Experiment", and Sarah Jane Smith closes the Third Doctor's eyes in "Planet of the Spiders".
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- The Klingons sense of honour means that their allies will hold their eyes open and look into them as they die. Happens in a couple of episodes. They also scream to warn the afterlife that a Klingon Warrior is arriving. Highlighted by Tasha Yar in her funeral service, speaking to Worf. "I hope I met death with my eyes wide open."
- Data, in the episode "Contagion." Geordi closes his eyes for him (which looks kinda weird since Burton can't actually touch him without screwing up Spiner's makeup and the hover is obvious). Whenever he shuts off, his eyes are usually open.
- Bryce at the end of season 2 of Chuck.
- Robin Hood has two in the third season finale - Tuck closes Allan's eyes, and Robin later closes Gisborne's eyes.
- Kamen Rider Stronger:
- In the final episode of Ashes to Ashes Chris Skelton views a video of a disturbing close look of a dying police officer's face in such a fashion after the officer is shot to death. The dying police officer is Chris himself
- An episode of Fringe has Walter find a man who's been fused together with a copy of himself, such that one's face is coming out of the other's chest. When the man naturally dies, Walter closes the eyes of the one face...then those of the chest-face.
- In Burn Notice, Victor dies this way; in fact, there's hardly any visible change from the way he was before. Michael closes his eyes for him.
- In the NCIS episode Twilight, Kate is sniped through the head. Her eyes are wide open in the next shot, but then it cuts to the end of the season. In the shots of her body in the next two episodes, she is either talking to Ducky via hallucination or has her eyes shut - Ducky kept her covered in front of her former colleagues, and her eyes being shut is presumably a sign of respect.
- Discussed in the Firefly episode "The Message". As part a posthumous message, Tracy requests that Mal and Zoe "make sure his eyes is closed."
- In one of the most heartbreaking moments ever seen on Farscape, Crichton utters "Don't worry about me. I've never felt better." before dying with his eyes still open.
- Walker, Texas Ranger: Victor La Rue, when Killed Off for Real by Walker and The Hangman, who forced C.D. Parker to pull a suicide by cop, die with their eyes wide open. Even more disturbing with La Rue, because not only does his face look just as vicious upon his death, Alex has a nightmarish thought as he's being carted out on a gurney- only to spring back to life to the tune of Elvis.
- Quite a lot of deaths in 1000 Ways to Die feature this. Fitting, as it is a show about death.
- In Breaking Bad, Jane starts choking while she's asleep. When she finally dies, her eyelides slide partially open. She's shown hours later with her eyes still open.
- Lexie on Grey's Anatomy; Mark does the traditional closing-by-hand.
- Michael Jackson's "Little Susie" mentions the titular girl's blind stare, as well as someone coming to close her eyes for her.
- This happens to Mikey in the music video for "The Ghost of You" by My Chemical Romance.
- In Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, when you find the GFS Tyr's landing site, Captain Exeter is leaning against a communications console with his visor broken and his eyes wide open. After watching the Marines' final, fatal Ing encounter in cutscene, Samus shakes her head at the futility of their deaths before kneeling next to Exeter's corpse, closing his eyes through the broken glass.
- Lumine dies like this in Mega Man X 8. Subverted in Maverick Hunter X where X's eyes remain open when he's unconscious, with varying reactions from observers.
- Happens with Trevor in Phantasmagoria2.
- Richard L. Jenkins in Mass Effect actually averts this, as a CGI character they could give him half-closed eyes. Kaidan still comes along and closes them.
- Both NPC and player characters die with open eyes in Fallout 3.
- In Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, Morgan LeFlay falls in a slump after whispering to Guybrush about LeChuck and dies with her eyes half open; Guybrush becomes grieved at her loss, then pulls the sword from her not-bleeding body and has her hands enclose its hilt, tilts her head in a proper death pose and closes her eyes before getting up and walking away.
- Averted at the end of the same chapter, when the mortally wounded Guybrush's eyes open wide in a blank stare at a saddened Elaine, but then gently close as he collapses and "falls asleep" with his mouth open.
- Seymour from Final Fantasy X dies like this. The first time, at least.
- The previous Steef guardian in Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath.
- Emma Emmerich in Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty
- In The King of Fighters 99, Krizalid dies like this in the Team Edit ending. Then, Heidern closes his eyes with a gloved hand.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, Sivo's eyes remain open in death. Their color changes from blue to a pupil-less gray.
- The wide open eyes of Paul after his death in Sire were regarded as some readers as Nightmare Fuel.
- Order of the Stick has its own version of this trope, where a dead body's eyes are always displayed as X's, neither open nor shut. This is lampshaded in this strip, where Durkon is looking at Roy's corpse through a spy-glass and Haley asks him whether "he has the X's in his eyes" that prove his death.
- Also when Haley and Belkar are sneaking out of occupied Azure City; Celia uses an illusion to appear as a demon, while the two mortals draw X's over their eyelids and lie very still on the cart so they appear to be corpses.
- Homestuck: Midway through Act 5 Act 2, the trolls start dying; most of the dead trolls die with their eyes open, as a result of being actively fighting when they were murdered. The exceptions are Kanaya, who got better, and Nepeta, whose death was not actually seen, possibly as part of a Schrodinger's cat pun, though her eyes were open later when Gamzee got ahold of her decapitated head.
- The Simpsons: Homer's mother, Mona, dies like this.
- Batman the Brave And The Bold, of all places, had Boston Brand aka Deadman die like this in a flashback.
- Death in western animation may be rare, dead bodies more so, eyes wide open even more so, but Metalocalypse does its very best to make up for it.
- Family Guy: In the two-parter when Stewie is killed by Peter, his eyes are wide open and Peter wipes his hand over and closes them.
- When terrorist Timothy Mc Veigh (of Oklahoma City infamy) was executed, he expired eyes wide open, staring at the viewers.
- There's a photo of Serial Killer Ted Bundy out there that shows his eyes like this.
- Observe the autopsy photos of John F Kennedy.
- Unorthodox Example: When e-paper based readers run out of power, they often expire with an "out-of-power" message still on the screen since their displays require no power when static. In a world where we're used to monitors which go black when unpowered, this can give the same impression as being dead with eyes open.
- Eyes are closed to prevent them drying out and causing something known as "tache noir".
- Actor John Carradine died this way in 1988. His son and fellow actor David closed his eyes, later noting that it's not as easy as it's believed to be.