“A Body at Rest…”

I admire the amount of detail that special effects departments are able to incorporate into the modern day crime drama. These shows are able to make the most of computer animation in their storyline unlike any other type of show on television. They can painstakingly create a visual reconstruction of a projectile as it passes through the human body or show how blood spatter is formed as it is cast off of a blunt instrument.

So why is it that studios can’t get the dynamics of a dead body right? Whenever a body is shown in the morgue, it appears flat on a table or a tray under a white sheet. In reality, if the body is covered at all, the sheet is stained with whatever deposits it has come into contact with. Unless the person died in the same position they are laying in the morgue, the posture of the body itself is usually contorted because of the onset of rigor mortis. This posture makes for a rather abstract shape under a sheet.

I happened upon the premiere of a new crime drama last night that I paused on simply because I didn’t recognize it. In this particular scene, the main character (I assume) was examining a corpse at a scene. To get a look at the side of her face, he simply placed his hand on her head and gently turned it to the side. Having passed the point of laughing at such inaccuracies long ago, I simply shook my head and turned the channel.

In reality, a body that has been dead for even a short amount of time can already have rigor in the neck, thus making it very stiff. In reality, it would have taken two hands and some effort to force her head to turn to the side. I find that it’s usually easier to roll the entire body onto its side to look at the side of head. “Easier” is a relative term in this case and depends on the size of the person.

A dead body in Hollywood always seems rather flaccid. A character can grab a body by the wrist in an attempt to lift a hand for closer inspection. In this case, the actor portraying the dead person is as flexible as you or I. In reality, a dead body reacts similarly to a “Barbie” doll. You can try and change the position of the doll’s knees or elbows, but as soon as you let go, the doll is pretty much going back to the position it wants to be in.

4 Responses to ““A Body at Rest…””

  1. February 16, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Well, you know why they don’t have a disgustingly stained sheet or a stiff, unattractive corpse (unless its Dawn of the Dead of course)…it gets too personal. It’s like filming an accident victim with soiled underwear! Everyone wants to think that when THEY die, it will be on snowy white cotton sheets with a downy comforter tucked under a gracefully aged face in a violet scented sunny room. But, really, once you’re dead, it shouldn’t really matter to you, should it. Who actually cares what your corpse inflicts on the rest of the world, then?

  2. February 16, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    Do you think that Six Feet Under is more realistic? It’s certainly less pretty!

  3. 3 Barratic
    February 17, 2005 at 8:10 pm

    I’m glad to see a site like this. I myself work at the Medical Examiners office. I’m the pathology supervisor. I’ve been doing autopsies for 15 yrs. I have been to several scenes with investigators. In this line of work, every day is different. In 15 yrs I’ve just about seen it all I guess. I find the death investigation T.V. shows to be rather comical. It’s amazing how many people call our office to ask questions about their loved one and refer to one of those shows for the answer. The one thing I can think of that I haven’t seen is a homocide with a bow and arrow. But anyways great site sir!


  4. 4 RD
    February 18, 2005 at 8:41 am

    A friend of mine sent me your link a month ago but I have to admit when I saw “stories” in the title I didn’t exactly rush to it. No offense. I’m a death investigator in a medical examiner system and I was expecting to see a bunch of poorly-crafted attempts at creative writing that were loosely based on reality. I too have a problem with TV (that goes beyond simply watching too much of it). I have to admit I was way off. It looks like a blog, but no where in there do you use the phrase “my little corner of the web” or describe the color and consistency of your most recent stool. Very factually based and you’re right, there’s a lot of things that don’t occur to people about this line of work. If you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you should never run out of things to write about.


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