‘No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.’
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
Masks are fascinating. We all wear masks – of a sort – every day. It’s rare to meet a completely open person. And in film, a mask is intriguing. It can serve a number of purposes. For example, they can be used to heighten or accentuate your personality, or give you a different one altogether. They can be used to hide or reveal, to confuse or mislead, and as armour in defence or offense (to coin an American phrase).
They come in many different shapes and sizes, some functional, some more flamboyant (as we’ll see from my list below). Here are some of my favourite masks, characters, and the actors who wore them.
Frank (2014) – Michael Fassbender
More a giant head but still a mask of sorts. Fassbender plays the enigmatic leading man of a band struggling to find their sound in this quirky yet tragic tale.
V for Vendetta (2005) – Hugo Weaving
Never once removing his mask, Weaving plays this anarchist crime fighter to the letter in this adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel.
The Mask (1994) – Jim Carrey
Transforming from sad sack Stanley Ipkiss into the God of Mischief each time he donned the mask, Carrey firmly put himself on Hollywood’s A-list with this exuberant performance.
The Skin I Live In (2011) – Elena Anaya
Whilst the actress named above wears the mask, this film is undoubtedly Antonio Banderas’s in terms of performance, teaming up with Pedro Almodovar in this creepy tale.
Vanilla Sky (2001) – Tom Cruise
Disfigured after a car accident Cruise’s character spends a large part of the film hiding behind a weirdly androgynous mask designed to heal his scars. Or does he?
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – Tom Cruise
Hands up, who’s in a troubled marriage and wants to attend a high society sex party? Tom Cruise’s character does that’s who. Sneaking his way in with a black robe and handy mask.
Batman Begins (2005) – Cillian Murphy
Intelligent and intense yet wildly unhinged, Murphy’s portrayal of the Scarecrow in Nolan’s first Batman outing was mightily impressive and firmly ticked the creepy box.
Point Break (1991) – Patrick Swayze
Charismatic surfer cum bank robber Bodhi’s modus operandi when on a heist involved him and his team donning masks of ex-Presidents.
Watchmen (2009) – Jackie Earle Haley
Rorschach’s mask was unlike most others, in that it reflected his personality, the inky lines shifting and swirling with his mood.