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A character, deeply unsatisfied with their current state of being, looks in a mirror or a pool of water. After a while, the character will either say (or sing, in a musical) something about themselves or just become angry, and disrupt the reflection in some way to show their dissatisfaction. This can involve punching or throwing something at a mirror in order to shatter it, slapping or stirring water to distort the reflection, or otherwise make the image of themselves go away. For some added Angst, the puncher could injure their hand in the process.
Can occur with characters who have been transformed or feel like they're being forced to become something they're not. If it's the transformed variant, sometimes the reflection will show their original form instead of their current form. Also sometimes used by characters who are either ugly and suffering because of it, or made a decision that they regret and are angry at themselves about it. Contrast Distracted by My Own Sexy where characters like looking at themselves, and for an extreme case see House of Broken Mirrors.
Anime & Manga
- Princess Tutu has a scene with an interesting variation -- at one point, Fakir smashes through a window and threatens Kraehe with a shard of glass. She was actually in the middle of questioning her motives, but when she sees her reflection in the falling shards of glass and hears Fakir's accusation of being a "crow", she accepts who she is and mockingly responds "Why yes, I am a crow!"
- Happens twice in Tokyo Babylon, once with Seishirou oddly enough given that he's not a character associated with self-hatred to say the least, and at the end with Subaru, with the added subtext of his reflection being a symbol for his dead twin sister Hokuto.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Al does this by pressing the palm of his hand against a mirror, cracking it. At that point in the manga, it's the first time we saw the depth of his angst with his lack of a human body.
- Digimon Frontier: Takuya does this after he recovers from his Shonen Upgrade, which caused him to go berserk and attack all his friends.
- Ban does this in GetBackers, after a brutal beating of his opponent. He catches a glimpse of his reflection in a nearby mirror and remembers his mother's cries that he was a monster, not her child. Cue the mirror-smashing.
- Kamina in RahXephon returns to Tokyo Jupiter in an attempt to figure out who he actually is, and ends up throwing a chair at a mirror out of frustration.
- Space Pirate Mito: Ranban punches the mirror and then rages against it. Or rather, rages against Mito, who he considers his "mirror-image" since they share the same blood (his drips on the mirror shards as he says this) and were both in line for the throne. He wonders how it can be that they're so alike, yet only he was "cursed" with a genetic defect that lead to him being imprisoned by the rules of their society.
- Happens to the main character in IRIA:Zeiram the Animation during a shower scene.
- In Future GPX Cyber Formula, after suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of Hayato and his Super Asurada 01 in the England race trials, Shinjyo looks himself at the bathroom mirror and punches it.
- Black Butler II: Ciel does this when he thinks he sees Alois in the mirror.
- In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman "The Kindly Ones", Hippolyta Hall does this in her hallucination journey.
- Dr. Doom smashes anything reflective when not wearing his mask.
- The shot of Doom hunched over, fist in a smashed mirror is re-used during one story arc for Reed, after Doom burns his face.
- You just know Two-Face has to have done this at some point. (And he did, in his Golden Age origin, where he throws a flowerpot against the mirror).
- Tony Stark hates himself. Despite what you might think, he's hated himself pretty much since his origin story. There are days when he can barely stand to look at himself in the mirror -- unless, of course, he's in Iron Man mode, whether with the helmet on or off.
- The Flash villain Mirror Master slightly subverts this in his origin story. After realizing he had killed his father (whom he had never met before due to being given up into foster care as a baby), Evan McCulloch checks on his mother. Evan sees she has committed suicide over the loss by smashing the mirror in the bathroom and using a piece to slit her wrists. Evan then stares at the smashed mirror for 12 hours afterwards.
- For one more obscure, try Alias the Blur from Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, of the Brotherhood of Dada group. The story goes that a young girl fell in love with her reflection in the mirror. As she grew older and her face grew less pretty, she saw this as a betrayal by the mirror and attacked it with acid, and ends up getting crushed by the mirror. Her spirit enters the broken mirror, and becomes Alias the Blur, The Ghost Who Eats Time.
- A variation in The Venture Brothers fanfiction The Sorrows of Young Werner, telling the backstory of Baron Ünderbheit. The future Baron tells his manservant to smash the mirror when he wakes up in hospital with his jaw blown off.
- In The Chong Sheng Trilogy, the author's original character, Zha, invokes this trope after learning that his father, whom he thought was dead, is actually very much alive and fighting on Zuko's side against the throne.
- A variation happens in Stars Above: The mirror image Homura rages against is a doppelganger of herself, with an affinity for mirrors.
- In the Pony Psychology Series, Rainbow Dash is flying by one day when she hears yelling. Inside? Pinkie Pie screaming hateful insults at herself while smashing a mirror with her FACE. This severely weirds out poor Rainbow.
Films -- Animation
- Beauty and the Beast: The Beast broke all the mirrors in the West Wing and slashed up a portrait of himself in human form.
- Disney's Tarzan has young Tarzan slap at his reflection in a pool because of his frustration with being so obviously different from the "other" gorillas.
- The Lion King sequel has this with Kovu's reflection. Why? Unlike Simba, who saw Mufasa in his reflection, Kovu sees Scar.
- There's a scene in Aladdin where Jasmine slaps at her reflection in a pool and says "Maybe I don't want to BE a princess anymore!"
- After Fiona has left to marry Lord Farquaad, Shrek sees his ogre reflection in broken glass shards and splashes mud upon them. Earlier, when Fiona sees her ogre reflection in a bucket of water, she dashes it aside.
- A variation occurs for Coraline when she looks in a mirror and finds her parents trapped in a frozen prison. She panics and starts pounding her fists against the glass to try to save them until the mirror shatters and reveals nothing but a blank wall behind it.
- The Swan Princess has Odette slapping at her reflection in the lake, in swan form, at several points in the movie.
- Neither a mirror or pool of water, but in The Nightmare Before Christmas, when Sally tries to talk Jack out of Subbing for Santa by showing a picture of Jack as the Pumpkin King, Jack simply takes the picture and breaks it over his knee.
Films -- Live-Action
- Martin Sheen punches the mirror in the beginning of Apocalypse Now; notable because it was Enforced Method Acting and Sheen actually hurt his hand doing it.
- Not so much enforced as Accidental Method Acting: the director called to Sheen to shadow-box in the mirror, but Sheen misjudged his punch and hit the mirror instead - that's real blood on his hand later in the scene.
- The song "Hopelessly Devoted To You" from Grease ends with a variation of this trope.
- The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber film edition.
- Parodied in Zoolander. At Derek's lowest moment, he looks into a puddle in the road, gets philosophical, and then a car goes by and splatters him with said puddle.
- High School Musical 2, during the song "Bet On It".
- V shatters a mirror and breaks down crying in The Movie of V for Vendetta.
- Occurs in SLC Punk!!: Heroin Bob punches a mirror in a fit of pique (or to emulate the iconic BlackFlag album). Parodied in that unlike almost every example here, the consequences of punching a mirror are explicitly played out.
- In Tropic Thunder, when Kirk Lazarus finally starts breaking character and remembering who he really is, he drives the point home to himself by shattering his reflection in a nearby mirror.
- An unusual case appears at the climax of the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Harry, trapped in a battle in his own mind, caps off his rejection of Voldemort and his Not So Different sentiments by punching a symbolic mirror into shards.
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban there is a mirror hanging above the fireplace in the Shrieking Shack that has very clearly been punched in, most likely by Lupin in his younger years.
- In the Rags to Riches caper film P & B, the main character is tipsy and laughing at his reflection in a bathroom mirror. We see him gradually sober up, put out his cigarette in the eye of his reflection, and begin to cry.
- Variations occasionally show up in adaptations of "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs". The 1987 Cannon Films take has the evil queen, upon learning that a prince's bride-to-be is fairer than she, toss something at her magic mirror to break it. It wildly spins and starts to fracture. As she heads off to the wedding in a huff (to discover that said bride is the revived Snow), each crack in the mirror progressively ages her, leaving her an old hag by the time she arrives. When it shatters once and for all, she does the same, crumbling to dust.
- Also used in the film Snow White a Tale of Terror. In it, the wicked stepmother has a mirror which once belonged to her mother. When the stepmother loses her mind and starts trying to kill Lilli, the mirror guides her, showing her reflection as being young and beautiful. The stepmother is killed when Lilli stabs it with a dagger, destroying the reflection.
- Terry Gilliam's fantasy The Brothers Grimm goes wild playing with this. The Big Bad Vain Sorceress, the Mirror Queen, is confined to her bed in a decaying tower having cast a spell on herself centuries ago to live forever, not realizing it wouldn't keep her from aging - she's now a shriveled old crone. However, the reflection in the giant mirror in the room shows the former glory of the place, and of her. She uses her magic to convince men to look only at the reflection (which she can make move independently of her bedridden self), and from there seduce and control them. She almost does this to Jacob Grimm but a tossed rock from below (his brother Will signaling for help) cracks the mirror and breaks the spell on him. In the climax, after she restores her youth in reality, she uses the mirror to tease Jacob by seemingly invoking a Disney Death on the wounded Will; actually she is putting him under her control. To stop this, Jacob breaks the mirror with a hatchet - and the real Queen cracks in a similar manner. When the mirror is smashed to bits, so is she, though the final shot suggests she still isn't dead and could be put back together.
- In a variation of this, after performing oral sex on a Jerk Jock, one of the titular characters in Heathers takes a drink of water and spits it at her reflection in the mirror. The self-loathing in that scene certainly explains why the character is so rotten to everyone else.
- In Phenomenon (with John Travolta, not the older horror movie), Travolta's character is angry at who he has become and yells at a mirror. When angrily gesturing at his reflection, he inadvertently smashes it with his telekinesis.
- Edward Norton's character in Twenty Fifth Hour has a long monologue into a bathroom mirror, complaining about all of New York until he finally lays into himself. He never actually attacks the mirror, but he comes as close as one can without. In an expressionistic touch, it's the reflection that does the talking.
- In Punisher: War Zone, Jigsaw's brother starts destroying mirrors so that Jigsaw (who was previously vain before the Punisher destroyed his face) wouldn't have to see himself.
- In Pan's Labyrinth, Captain Vidal slashes his mirror with his razor while shaving.
- In Bride of Frankenstein, the Monster sees his reflection while drinking from a pool. He churns the water in disgust, only to see the reflection reappear to his horror. This is based off a scene in the original Frankenstein.
- In the movie Carrie, Sissy Spacek smashes a mirror in her room by telekinesis.
- In a particularly hard-to-watch scene from the film Vulgar, the main character returns home after being brutally gang-raped by an insane father and his sons. He not only smashes his mirror and injures his hand, but attempts to slash his wrists with a shard of the broken mirror.
- Near the end of Spider Man 2 Harry does this by throwing a knife at a mirror after hallucinating that his father is talking to him from the mirror.
- In Tommy it is Mrs Walker who smashes the mirror -- thus revealing Tommy's true self and releasing him from his self-imposed prison.
- In Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Garrett shoots at his reflection right after shooting Billy.
- In Ang Lee's Hulk movie, Hulk smashes the water in a lake when he thinks he sees his father's reflection.
- A slightly different take in 28 Days Later, when one of the soldiers who's got the rage virus stares fixatedly at his reflection in a free-standing mirror, before fleeing. It's just as well he didn't strike it as a little girl was hiding behind it.
- Happens in "I Miss You I Miss You" after Tina's identical twin sister Cilla has died. Tina takes out some of her anguish on her mirror image, imagining that it's actually Cilla she's seeing. Eventually the mirror cracks.
- In the Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact, Sondra Locke's character smashes the mirror after she herself resembling the image she painted of herself.
- In the Discworld book Witches Abroad, Granny punches out a mirror in the house of late fairy godmother Desiderata Hollow because the face she sees in it is not hers, but that of Big Bad Lady Lilith, who is scrying through the mirror in order to find Desiderata's magic wand.
- Extra symbolism points for Lilith being Granny's sister -- not a twin (Lily is older, Granny looks older), but still very similar siblings.
- In Les Misérables, Fantine throws her mirror out the window after she sells her teeth and hair and becomes a down-on-her-luck whore.
- Older Than Print: In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, after Xiahou Dun gets his Eyepatch of Power, he's said to have at least had a very frightening, "wanting to break things" expression on his face every time he got near a mirror.
- Tess of Blind Lake is a young girl with a bad habit of breaking mirrors when she sees "Mirror Girl" looking back at her.
- Esther of The Bell Jar does this with a hand mirror upon gazing at her disfigured appearance in the reflection.
- The Shadow King in The City of Dreaming Books sees his reflection for the first time in ages:
"I saw the monster into which I had transformed myself. Not the one fabricated by Smyke, but the real monster deep inside this paper shell, for which I myself bore responsibility. I smashed the mirrors -- smashed them all in a towering rage."
- One could interpret the prologue of book eight of Guardians of Ga'Hoole this way.
- Very justified in "I Miss You I Miss You" where Tina works through her unresolved issues with her dead identical twin sister Cilla through the mirror, imagining that she's talking to Cilla and not her own reflection.
- In season five of Dexter, after Lumen tells Dexter she is leaving because she no longer wants to be involved in his killing, he looks down at the plate he's holding, sees his own face reflected there, then throws the plate against the wall.
- Dark Angel episode "The Berrisford Agenda". Alec is haunted by his past and angrily punches his reflection in the mirror. Possibly a callback to when Ben glares at the mirror in "Pollo Loco".
- An interesting version happens in Farscape during the second season finale. Harvey, in Scorpius' image, appears to John in a mirror; when John punches it, the mirror shatters, but the image remains. He punches it at least five more times, and as soon as the glass falls, Harvey reappears, taunting him. When Aeryn enters the scene, we see that the mirror actually did shatter: John's been punching the wall for the last minute, and his knuckles are bleeding. And then everything goes to hell.
- Lorne does this in Angel, after having his sleep surgically removed, while hallucinating his reflection reminding him about all the work he still has to do. After a moment's silence his reflection continues speaking from the now cracked mirror.
- Also happens in series 2. Pylea brings out the full manifestation of a vampire's demonic state. Angel is overcome by the strength of his demonic side when he transforms and only comes to his senses upon seeing his monstrous reflection in a pool of water. He smashes his fist into the water to disrupt his reflection and then goes into a state of shock that leaves him catatonic for hours.
- When Damar does this in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it signifies the beginning of his Heel Face Turn.
- In "Second Skin", Kira is held on Cardassia, surgically altered to resemble a Cardassian spy and is told she actually is her. This is her reaction as she looks at her altered face in the mirror, uncertain if it's true.
- During the second season of Heroes, Nathan sees a hideous version of himself in the mirror (probably what he would look like if Adam didn't heal him with his blood) as a reminder of what a jerk he used to be in the first season. He punches the mirror too in one episode. Didn't help him from becoming a jerk again in the next season...
- Somewhat subverted with Niki/Jessica in the first season. Niki's reflection looks like her, but is not Niki.
- The final season of Lost has a lot of characters looking at themselves in mirrors or reflective surfaces in the flash-sideways. At least one of them (Sawyer) invokes this trope.
- A variation on this is in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season four episode "Who Are You?" Faith and Buffy have switched bodies, and Faith gets an eye-opening experience at what it's like to be Buffy and to have have friends and family who love her and trust her. This affects her so deeply that at the end of the episode where she and Buffy face off, this exchange takes place:
Buffy-in-Faith's-body: You can't win this.
Faith-in-Buffy's-body: Shut up! Do you think I'm afraid of you? (starts punching Buffy, beating her own face) You're nothing! Disgusting! Murderous bitch! You're nothing! You're disgusting!
- Buffy suffers long-term depression after being dragged back from the afterlife at the beginning of Season Six. Her attempts to rediscover her passion in a Destructive Romance with Spike only make things worse. When Buffy (incorrectly) thinks she has murdered an innocent woman, she savagely beats an unresisting Spike, describing him in terms that clearly mirror her own fears over what she has become.
You don't have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real!
- The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Sarah Connor punches and breaks a mirror at the end of "Strange Things Happen at One Two Point".
- Battlestar Galactica: An enraged Adama punches the mirror, cutting his hand, after discovering his long-time friend Saul Tigh is a Cylon.
- There is a lot of symbolic focus on characters looking into mirrors in Lost season six's sideways timeline. Sawyer smashes a mirror with his bare fist after an argument with Miles.
- In The Twilight Zone episode "The Mirror", a Fidel Castro-like dictator acquires a mirror that shows him images of his enemies and those destined to betray him. After killing most of his allies after seeing them in the mirror, the dictator sees an image of himself. He goes crazy and smashes the mirror before committing suicide.
- Liz Lemon has a self-loathing speech in front of a mirror in the "Retreat to Move Forward" episode of Thirty Rock.
- In The Outer Limits episode "Caught in the Act", Hannah is possessed by an alien and goes around seducing people, then eating them after sex. In the girl's bathroom, Hannah loses her temper after the alien tries to seduce her roommate and punches the mirror. She then picks up a shard and attempts suicide, but the alien regains control and makes her drop it and continue its mission.
- In Breaking Bad, Walt repeatedly punches his reflection in a bathroom tissue dispenser after hearing the news that his cancer is in remission. This is horrible for him to hear, since it means he no longer has a justification to cook crystal meth.
- The music video for I Would Do Anything for Love by Meat Loaf is based on the story of Beauty and the Beast. There's a scene where Meat Loaf (as the Beast) smashes a hallway of mirrors.
- Leading to a hilarious joke on VH1's Pop Up Video, where the titular pop-ups show a running counter of the "years of bad luck" Meatloaf has accumulated on that scene.
- Likewise, the literal video version, has the line "Break things to show that I'm upset/That's 56 years of bad luck" during that scene.
- The video from "Everybody's Fool" by Evanescence shows Amy Lee punching a mirror... and she hurts her hand in the process. Now guess the emotional tone of the song.
- The music video for "Animal I Have Become" by Three Days Grace ends with the lead singer, wanting to destroy the Animal once and for all tosses a stool at a mirror.
- "Awase Kagami" ("Self-Portrait in Two Mirrors") by Miyuki Nakajima, complete with both the speaker's hands bleeding after breaking the mirror.
- The music video for Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" features, among other scenes, an anorexic woman looking at herself in the mirror disapprovingly, then punching the mirror to shatter it, symbolizing her refusal to agonize over her body.
- Eminem seems found of this trope. Using it in the songs "When I'm Gone" and "Going Through Changes".
- Pink smashes a mirror in the video for her song "Don't Let Me Get Me".
- In the music video for "Jesse's Girl", Rick Springfield smashes a mirror with the neck of his guitar, because he doesn't think he's good enough to get a woman like Jesse's girl.
- In William Shakespeare's historical plays:
- The titular character of Richard II breaks a mirror when his reflection fails to show any maturity or hardship after his deposal. "A brittle glory shineth in this face -- as brittle as the glory is this face".
- Inverted in the sequel Richard III where the titular character, after successfully wooing the widow of a man he murdered, decides to buy a mirror to see if he has suddenly become less hideously ugly.
- All of the mirrors in Herbert's bathroom in Tanz der Vampire are shattered. Considering he's a vampire, and from the way he dresses it's clear that he tries to pay a lot of attention to his appearance, so there's a heavy implication that he probably smashed them when he discovered he no longer had a reflection at all.
- Done by Ulala Serizawa to a mirror in the animated introduction of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment.
- Splinter Cell: Having fallen into dereliction after his daughter's death in Double Agent, Sam Fisher gives the ole mirror a bloody-fisted whack.
- Haunting Ground has Daniella, who will stop and scream whenever she sees her reflection for a moment or two before breaking the mirror.
- Infinity series:
- Implied in Fallout: New Vegas - going into Boone's motel room in Novac reveals a broken bathroom mirror and a bottle of drugs left in the sink.
- It's implied in Deus Ex Human Revolution that Adam Jensen does this to his mirror a lot. The superintendent of his apartment building has all but given up on even trying to replace the computer-backed, rather expensive mirrors.
- Implied until he outright states during the showdown with Taggart that the first thing he did upon viewing his post-surgery self was put his fist through the mirror.
- In Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, before his first mission, the Panda King has a conflict with a reflection of his former self.
- In one SSDD comic Tessa smashes the mirror in her bathroom after the Oracle appears in it and states that she's getting boring, fortunately her Healing Factor got most of the glass out of her hand.
- Butch of Chopping Block did this once because "the damn thing was always staring at him."
- In the flash game Die Anstalt, Dolly the sheep does this when shown a mirror.
- Like just about anything else, 5 Second Films have played this for laughs with Self-Hatred
- Azula of Avatar: The Last Airbender rages at her hallucination of her mother in a mirror as she realizes that she is completely alone and unloved, thus also clearly raging against herself.
- In the Futurama episode "I, Roommate", a sober Bender winds up lying in an alley in a puddle of his own bodily fluids (mostly oil). He sees his reflection in the puddle, and, predictably, smacks it.
- In Batman the Animated Series, upon awakening after getting caught in an explosion, Harvey Dent demands a mirror. When he sees the grotesque scarring of half his face, he screams with horror and anger, and his transformation into the villain Two-Face becomes complete (except for the occasional Hope Spot that keeps Batman tormented that his old friend might be saved).
- In a later episode, Batman is chasing Baby Doll through a funhouse, into the Hall of Mirrors. She's caught up short when one of the mirrors shows her as she would have been if she did had not been born with a rare condition that makes her forever look five years old. Cue Villainous Breakdown during which she empties her gun into the mirror.
- In Batman the Brave And The Bold, Red Hood (The Joker's Alternate Universe good twin) breaks a mirror after looking at his newly warped face.
- The Tim Burton Batman example mentioned above is parodied in The Simpsons' episode "Lisa Needs Braces" with the shadowy silhouette reveal of her horrific orthodontia when the family has no Dental Insurance.
- And again in Homie the Clown when, after Krusty the Klown gets extensive plastic surgery, this exchange takes place:
Surgeon: Now Krusty, when I remove the bandages, don't be alarmed by the total stranger staring back at you...
Krusty: (looks in mirror) AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGHHHH!!!! (turns round revealing his face) I LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME, YOU MORON!
Surgeon: Oh, nonsense, Krusty. You look at least 10 years younger. Plus, I did your breasts.
Krusty: Does anybody hear me complaining about the breasts?
- In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Patrick is talking to his reflection about going on the "Fiery Fist o' Pain" roller coaster. It calls him a coward, causing Patrick to punch it out -- not the mirror, the reflection.
- "I thought we'd settled this the last time!"
- Re Boot has Matrix do this twice during an All Just a Dream episode. First time is when he's rebooted as Megabyte and a vidwindow reflection does a Hannibal Lecture, and Matrix smashes it which makes him look normal again. Second time is when another vidwindow appears and a reflection of himself does another Hannibal Lecture, and Matrix shoots that.
- Gargoyles did it twice:
- In "Reawakening", Big Bad Demona ressurects one of her clanmates in the form of a Hollywood Cyborg. When he sees his image in a mirror, he shatters it in disgust.
- In "The Mirror", Demona uses a magic mirror to capture Puck and have him do her bidding. Among the things she wants is for him to Kill All Humans, but he tells her he's not powerful enough for that. Another thing she asks for is to no longer turn to stone during the day (as all gargoyles do). At the end of the episode, Puck grants this wish by having her turn into a human during the day. When Demona realizes this, she smashes the mirror in horror.