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When someone attempts to be a mirror image of another person by standing behind a glass pane, sometimes only an empty frame or a gap in a row of mirrors, copying their movements exactly.
Sometimes this is to hide the fact that they have broken the mirror, and they don't want the other character to find out.
In cartoons, this is usually played for laughs with two characters that look nothing alike, with the mark trying to catch the "mirror image" out and the foil managing to pull off a perfectly synchronised act. If the act is convincing enough to work, expect the mark to attribute glaring differences to simple illness, drinking, or staying up too late. It can also be used very effectively to hide from a pursuer, especially if you happen to be an Evil Twin.
Another variant is when two Identical Strangers meet each other for the first time. This is also sometimes done when someone is flawlessly disguised as the person he is impersonating or vice-versa, or even if the impersonator is only wearing a convincing rubber mask but leaving the rest of the body exposed.
A similar setup is used when the character seen by the audience isn't the character seen by the other characters (e.g., a Freaky Friday Flip situation, or a person using a glamour to hide his true form). If Bob is hiding in Alice's body, sometimes the show will continue to show us Bob, but have everyone react like they've seen Alice, and the Mirror Routine is a decent way to clarify what's going on.
Unfortunately, since mirrors have traditionally been a way to see through a glamour (e.g., how Dracula doesn't reflect), there are two variants here, one the inverse of the other: Either Bob is the true person (or at least the soul) and Alice-in-the-Mirror is what others see, or Bob is what others see and Alice-in-the-Mirror is his true form. Whichever you use, establish it well.
In Real Life, this is almost impossible to do convincingly. If you've ever done basic drama in school then you've probably done this exercise and know just how hard it is to synchronise your actions with those of another actor, even with proper forward planning.
- A recent McDonald's commercial plays with this trope with a young teenage girl who apparently approaches a mirror and performs a dance routine before "reaching through" to pick up the "reflected" drink, at which point it becomes apparent that this trope was being performed with twin sisters.
Anime & Manga
- A variation of this is done in Cardcaptor Sakura. The Mirror card deliberately mirrors Sakura's actions in order to reveal its identity.
- Naruto: Shikamaru and the rest of the Nara family pull this off by way of their Shadow Pin ninjutsu. To paraphrase an enemy, "You got ahold of my shadow, so now we marry each other's movements."
Films -- Live-Action
- The Marx Brothers do this in Duck Soup. The definitive version that everyone copies. The gag was old when the Marxes did it, dating from vaudeville and being used in several silent comedies in the '20s, though they subvert it niftily at one point when Groucho and Harpo walk around each other but continue imitating each other afterward.
- A variation shows up in the Buster Keaton film Sherlock, Jr. -- Buster stands in front of what appears to be a full-length mirror, then steps through, revealing that it's a door connecting two identical rooms.
- Max Linder, in the 1921 silent comedy Seven Years Bad Luck, in which Max's servant is trying to hide the fact that he's broken his master's mirror.
- Another silent-era example: Charley Chase, in his 1924 short Sittin' Pretty.
- Like every other slapstick trope, this one was used on occasion by The Three Stooges -- usually Curly.
- Played with in the Bette Midler flick Big Business. She's playing identical twins who don't know about this, and meet for the first time -- walking along a mirrored surface. Neither wants to foil the other, they just happen to do the same movements at the same time -- except, you know, mirrored. (Video)
- Used in Airheads when Pip first leaves the radio station. He encounters a police officer, and they perform the basic routine. Pip tries to throw off the cop with some kind of dance move, but the officer reaches for his gun, causing the inept rocker to flee.
- Sarah Jessica Parker made a dance movie in the 1980s called Girls Just Want to Have Fun. During the final round of competition, twin dancers successfully pull off a quick intro that way and are called Mirror Image.
- This happens in the TV movie Model Behavior, except the lookalikes are unintentionally copying each other's movements.
- Lampshaded in The Monkees' film Head. Peter thinks Davy's trying to do "the old mirror routine" in the studio restroom, but Davy's actually trying to warn Peter about a huge Evil Eye in the mirror.
- Done in the Vincent Price vehicle Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, between Price's titular villain and Ciccio Ingrassia's hero/comedy relief.
- There is a deleted scene in Terminator 2 where Sarah Connor installs new hardware into the head of the Terminator while he sits in front of a mirror. In the movie, the mirror and its reflections are genuine. In real life, Linda Hamilton's identical twin stood on the other side of the mirror and copied her sister's movements. This was done so that the camera could make a continuous shot from the back of the Terminator's head (actually a dummy) to looking down inside it; Arnold sat on the other side of the fake mirror while Leslie Hamilton pretended to fiddle with his head.
- Also, it's done to fool us the audience, and you know what? it works.
- In the second Garfield movie, A Tale of Two Kitties, Garfield and Identical Stranger Prince do this when they finally meet, over a hedge arch. They desynchronize once Garfield tries some wicked dance moves.
- Done in The Nutt House, when two identical twins finally meet.
- Also used in Repli-Kate: Kate and her clone both mistake each other for a reflection, unintentionally mirror each other's movements, and walk away without a clue what just happened.
- Roberto Benigni does a quick mirror routine with an Identical Stranger in Johnny Stecchino.
- In the unused script for "Back to the Future II", old Doc Brown travels to the sixties and has to avoid being seen by young Doc Brown by hiding behind an empty mirror frame. "Great Scott! I look terrible!"
- Played for dramatic effect near the end of The Big Over Easy (book kind-of spun off from Thursday Next).
- Inversion: In Ares Express by Ian McDonald, Sweetness searches through a mirror maze for one image that doesn't match her every move, because it's an independent virtual-reality copy of her.
- In Fawn and the Mysterious Trickster, Fawn pranks Beck by dressing up as her and pretending to be her reflection.
- Partially applies to a scene in Witches Abroad, where Lily rushes into her mirror-filled room and mistakes Granny for one of her own reflections, as she's standing in the frame of a broken one. Justified in that Granny was dressed similarly to Lily, they're sisters who look a lot alike, and Lily's ordinary reflections don't move perfectly in synch with her, due to her excessive use of mirror-magic.
- This sketch was done as a performance in The Vicar of Dibley: Rather slim prima ballerina Darcy Bussel in a famous cameo is reflected by not-at-all slim Geraldine.
- This is a plot point in the episode "The Tailor's Dummy" of Jonathan Creek, inspired by Duck Soup, to bluff that one man was the murderer.
- Lucy and Harpo Marx, in an episode of I Love Lucy, echoing the famous scene from Duck Soup.
- One episode of Gilligan's Island involves a Soviet spy who has undergone plastic surgery to resemble Gilligan landing on the island. When the two Gilligans come face to face, the spy tries to convince the real Gilligan that he is looking into a mirror. Gilligan manages to trip the spy up by acting like he is going to sneeze and then stopping halfway through.
- Happens a few times in The Benny Hill Show, usually with Benny in drag mirroring a woman. The "disguise" fails when they start to strip....
- Done in an episode of The X-Files. In the Season 6 two-part episode "Dreamland", Mulder switches bodies with another agent. When he later looks in the mirror, the two actors (David Duchovny and Micheal McKean) perform this trope.
- Scott Bakula did the same performance with dozens of other actors on Quantum Leap, for pretty much the same reason.
- Done in an episode of Mad TV spoofing Heroes, where Nikki (the one with the split personality) believes the "her" in the mirror is someone different, and performs a series of elaborate stunts in front of the mirror to prove it.
- A contender group in the Japanese talent show Kasou Taishou had done a mirror room dance involving one girl dancing with five other girls as mirror images mimicking the dancer. This got them first place.
- Parodied in a Saturday Night Live sketch parodying The Swan in the episode hosted by the Olsen twins. One twin played the contestant looking at herself in the mirror; the other played the mirror image, deliberately off-sync with the other. The "image" even hands the other a tissue when she starts crying!
- In the first episode of Sister Sister, Tia and Tamara simultaneously brush their hair a bit (like, out of one eye) while standing on either side of an empty frame. Neither knows about the existence of the other until later in the episode.
- In an episode of The Muppet Show, Kermit checks his appearance in an empty frame; on the other side is Scooter's wind-up TV show host that looks exactly like Kermit, except for the wind-up key in the back.
- In the first Paper Mario, some shape-changing enemies try to pull this in the seventh dungeon, an ice palace, where every room looks like it has a mirror covering its wall, but is actually divided by a giant wall of glass. Eventually you find a hole in the "mirror", and bump into your "reflection".
- Super Mario 64 did it to simplify the graphics processing. In story, a room had a large mirror on the wall. The game actually used a mirrored room, a duplicate of Mario, and an invisible force field. Not a perfectly mirrored room, of course. The trick in that room is to find something that isn't a perfect mirror and use that as a level entrance. In the remake, Luigi can phase through the mirror into the copied room, where things get weird.
- In the first Tomb Raider game and its remake, there is an Atlantean creature who looks like a muscular structure of a human who copies Lara's movements exactly.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: The battle against Shadow Link starts off like this and goes on for about a minute or so before he starts attacking on his own.
- Sonic Generations: Before fighting the Death Egg Robot, Classic and Modern Sonic both walk up to a glass window in the wall separating them and perform this gag. The perspective the player sees it from depends on which Sonic they used to enter the boss portal from the hub world. In Classic Sonic's perspective, he realizes the trick after Eggman speaks. In Modern Sonic's, he doesn't notice until Classic Sonic runs off.
Kaalinor: Wow! That was totally awesome! I can't believe I stayed in sync with you for so long!
- When the title character of Ruby Quest leaves a room and returns, what was a window into another room seems to have changed into a mirror--at least, the figure on the other side perfectly mimicks Ruby. When she's forced to smash the glass, however, the figure remains, and its face distorts as it squeezes into the room.
- Classic Disney Shorts
- In the Mickey Mouse cartoon Lonesome Ghosts, a ghost does this to Goofy, who mentions at the beginning, "For a moment I thought it wasn't me."
- In the Chip 'n Dale cartoon Two Chips and a Miss, both Chip and Dale do this thinking they both saw a reflection of themselves to straighten their tuxedos when they were both secretly invited to a club.
- Bugs Bunny does this to Elmer in the Looney Tunes cartoon "Hare Tonic" to convince Elmer that he is turning into a rabbit.
- Daffy Duck does this in The Impatient Patient and Draftee Daffy.
- Tom and another cat did this while fighting over Jerry in the Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry short Cat and Dupli-Cat.
- An episode of Xiaolin Showdown has an evil mime do this to Clay. It ends when he tries to mirror-punch himself in the head.
- Fred Flintstone does this on Billy's dad in The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy once. Apparently, Billy's dad catches on eventually, and keeps going after Fred has left.
- Count Duckula, in the episode "One Stormy Night".
- Family Guy does this with Hitler vs. Stewie disguised as Hitler, a shot-by-shot remake of the infamous Marx Brothers skit in the episode "Road to Germany".
- Legion of Super-Heroes has a shapeshifter escaping from the heroes this way. He has the advantage of being on the other side of glass.
- A common gag on Scooby Doo, usually with Shaggy as a participant. Sometimes it is the Fake Monster of the Week doing the copying, other times it's Shaggy trying to fake out his pursuers. Sometimes this happens with Scooby, often with the villain wearing a very realistic latex Scooby-Doo mask (but with either his true hands exposed or no spots on his body).
- A serious variant was used in an episode of What's New Scooby Doo, in which a photograph thought to show a boy looking into a mirror turned out to be an image of identical twins, posed as if doing a Mirror Routine.
- Chuckie and Donnie in the Crossover Special Rugrats Go Wild.
- An Easy Amnesia episode of Donkey Kong Country includes this... in song.
- The Tale Spin episode "A Bad Reflection on You" features a scene like this.
- Jackie Chan from Jackie Chan Adventures and an evil clone.
- Dinobot from Beast Wars and... likewise.
- On the Merrie Melodies short "Bell Hoppy", Sylvester has to put a bell on Hippety Hopper, and after various failed attempts, he tricks Hopper into putting the bell on himself with a mirror routine.
- Parodied on an episode of Adventure Time.
Finn: Come on, Jake, I know this isn't a mirror! What the-- You're doing it WRONG, even!
- Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic does this in "A Canterlot Wedding Part 2" with the first Changeling to take her appearance, complete with a subtle lag in the latter's movements.
- Done as a prank.
- Another prank, done by Improv Everywhere.
- This mirror routine between 2 similar looking cats proves that this can happen in real life unintentionally.