Thousand Yard Stare
The thousand-yard stare (also referred to as two-thousand-yard stare, combat shock, or shell shock) is a phrase often used to describe the blank, unfocused gaze of combatants who have become emotionally detached from the psychological trauma around them. It is sometimes used more generally to describe the look of dissociation among victims of other types of trauma.
Thousand Yard Stare
When recounting his arrival in Vietnam in 1965, then-Corporal Joe Houle (director of the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas in 2002) said he saw no emotion in the eyes of his new squad: "The look in their eyes was like the life was sucked out of them," later learning that the term for their condition was "the 1,000-yard stare". "After I lost my first friend, I felt it was best to be detached," he explained.
A character who has just gone through some sort of trauma, learned something they probably didn't need to know, or seen something they really shouldn't have had to, will often have an unfocused, vacant stare into a vast abyss of nothingness, slipping into a shock and weariness from which it is very hard to escape.
The term "thousand-yard-stare" is believed to have originated in World War I, and was coined for the faces of battle-weary soldiers. It was popularized in World War II and named for the perception that such stares really do seem to be able to see very far ahead. Eyes cross a little when focusing on something reasonably close, but eyes not looking at anything will behave like eyes looking at something very far away. Dull Eyes of Unhappiness can look similar to this, but they're chronic while this trope tends to be transitory.
Fan Works Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): The PTSD-afflicted Vivienne and the ancient, weary Godzilla both have moments where they display this gaze. Vivienne observes that Godzilla's gaze often looks tired and world-weary as if he's looking right through someone. Whilst the look in the now-Titan Vivienne's eyes is compared by the human characters to the look of a soldier coming home from war for the first time.
Azula often gets a glassy eyed stare in Ash and Petals. This is in part due to her mental illness and in part due to trauma.
The Bridge: Xenilla sports this look after King Sombra made him hallucinate his greatest fear. It takes several days and then a huge pep talk from Blade Dancer to snap him out of it.
A Crown of Stars: Shinji recounts that one time Asuka allowed him to have sex with her (a while before their reconciliation and Relationship Upgrade), she was more akin to a mannequin, and that when he saw this look in her eyes, it completely killed what little mood there was.
In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Days Of Future Smurfed", Empath's friends notice this happening to Empath whenever he witnesses a time jump in his memory that he experiences firsthand, taking him to whatever future point in time the time jump takes him.
Fallout: Equestria: Fallout: Equestria - Occupational Hazards: Twintails develops a nice healthy case after the second battle of Pripytrot, after charging across the enemy trench lines he'd only just had strafed with high-velocity White Phosphorous shells.
Fallout: Equestria - Empty Quiver: The years haven't been kind to Twintails following the finale of Occupational Hazards, as while looking north towards where NEAMO was he falls silent, and when Night Strike prompts him to come back to his senses he jumps about and levels both of his automatic rifle barrels upon her. Mercifully, he refrains from opening fire on his own daughter.
Night Strike's no stranger to this either, especially following a harrowing moment wherein she ends up stuck in the middle of a tunnel as the entrance is struck with a fuel-air bomb. When a song comes over the radio that happens to feature a jet engine roar followed by an explosion, she ends up screaming and trying to save herself from the lack of danger, much to the worriment of her friends.
The Night Unfurls: Being a Shell-Shocked Veteran hunter, Kyril does this a lot in front of almost anyone or when in deep thought, something that disturbs the people around him.
During Maia's narration in Chapter 12 that shows her coping with the Rape as Drama from the previous chapter, she at one point gazes emptily ahead while doing a Troubled Fetal Position.
Olga stares blindly ahead while drinking for nights as her loyal servant and surrogate daughter Chloe is in critical condition, and she could do nothing but hope that she wakes.
In the Free! fic seen everything there is to be shown, Seijuurou walks in on Rin and Haru having sex in the pool office and runs out "sporting a 900-meter-stare more commonly seen in war veterans than in swim team captains."
In the fanmade prequel story of Girls und Panzer Koume's Road, Koume developed a Thousand-Yard Stare no thanks to the trauma caused by the increasingly hostile student body that saw her as the cause of their recent defeat against Pravda, as well as her own personal guilt and self-loathe. She got better in the end of the story.
Literature The Black Ice: Detective Bosch has an 18-year-old petty criminal drug pusher thrown into the adult lockup overnight, in an effort to get him to divulge information. When the boy comes out he's showing the Stare. Bosch is so ashamed that he immediately cuts the kid loose."He looked like he had aged ten years in the last ten hours. Now he had a distance in his eyes that reminded Bosch of men he had seen and known in Vietnam."
In Dragon Bones the empty stare is a sign that Oreg is not quite there at the moment. He is older than he looks and has been a slave for most of his not-life. With all that implies.
In Harmonic Feedback, Naomi has a glassy, vacant stare when she arrives at school on speed.
In Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus Warren Smith, a WWI vet suffering from "shellshock" makes a habit of trying to people-watch with a thousand-yard stare, eventually committing suicide.
Professional Wrestling Wrestlers who take powerful blows to the head are often described as having this, and it is usually an accurate description. Randy Orton, during his brief face run a few years ago, was involved in a story line where he was taking too many bumps to the head, and had this blank stare after each one.
In particular, Chris Benoit was described as having this for much of the last year of his life, outside of the ring.
Angelina Love had one on TNA Impact as a result of being drugged by Winter.
Roleplay In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, one flashforward to a Bad Future shows Zia sporting a vacant stare comparable to that of shell-shocked veterans. It's one of the many things used to indicate that something terrible happened to her between the present and future.
Tabletop Games In Space 1889, there are a few pictures in the main book that show shipwrecked people who are going through an arduous wilderness journey. Some of these have a person looking at the reader with this stare.
Theatre It's a toss-up between this trope and Mind-Control Eyes, but in the Toho production of Elisabeth Rudolf sports these on and off during the show. He's definitely staring after Death as the latter walks away from their kiss, though.
At the end of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, Oswald has this stare as he tonelessly asks his mother for the Sun. He has just lost the woman he loved, who turned out to be his half-sister, and now his mind is being destroyed by syphilis.
In the Nijinsky version of The Rite of Spring, the Chosen One spends some minutes staring numbly out at the audience after she is selected for the rite.
Webcomics Ariel from Drowtales has this expression after she's forced to choose between killing an enemy who tried to kill her and fighting her cousin to the death. She chooses to kill the enemy, and it's strongly implied this leaves her with PTSD. Even worse, she's physically the equivalent of a seven year old child when this happens and the victim is the same age.
Susan from El Goonish Shive sports one in a flashback after killing an aberration. And it's eerily similar to the half-lidded expression she usually has.Commentary: I have frequently seen Susan described as having a "bored" look on her face. For a long time now, I have seen it as something else.
Sciona from Grrl Power gives one after the reveal that her entire race has just been obliterated by a galactic peacekeeping force. Played for Laughs later when Sydney informs Maxima that she'd witnessed an enemy turned into Ludicrous Gibs.
In Knights of Buena Vista, the characters have learned that if Adriana does this it means she's about to do something that will potentially wreck the campaign, but if Walter does this it means the players are about to do something monumentally stupid.
During the Voodoo fete scene in Lackadaisy, Archie sits perfectly still next to Serafine the entire time, staring into space. None of the Maitre Carrefour cultists find this odd. A side comic has Rocky doing this after drinking his "special coffee" that apparently induces hallucinations. He also does this as a child when he gets a sugar high from syrupy pancakes.
In this strip of Manly Guys Doing Manly Things the Commander's new drinking buddy jokingly asks him if he's ever killed a man while looking him in the eyes and watching as everything leaves him, not just his life but all of that man's memories, experiences, and emotions are gone forever. The Commander answers yes as he gets this exact look on his face and it takes a moment for his friend to realize that the Commander isn't joking.
Sun from Nebula, who's just been staring emptily out into the dark, looking at nothing. Mars finds it incredibly unnerving, especially since Sun doesn't seem to hear when he tries to talk to him.
In this episode of Pocket Princesses, several of the princesses were deeply affected by watching Avengers: Infinity War. Elsa and Anna demonstrate this trope while clinging to each other for dear life. Fortunately for her, Snow White was watching Ready Player One at the time.
Cacko in Realm of Owls keeps sitting and staring into distance, frozen in place and nobody knows what she has seen or gone through.
Unsounded: When one of Lemuel's friends gets blown up right in front of him with his teeth flying as shrapnel and cutting Lemuel's face, right after trying to cheer Lem up about a friend who fell in battle the day before, he sits and stares into the distance with an empty expression for a bit.