Masks in movies: the weird, wacky and horrific

‘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.

Michael-Fassbender-as-Frank-p002Frank (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
The-Skin-I-Live-In-Review-The-Film-Pilgrim-Anaya-BanderasWhilst 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-mask

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.

The pen is mightier than the sword

penbluePicture this: you’re in a fight, possibly to the death, and you’re on the brink of losing. You’re scrabbling around to find purchase on something, anything to give you an advantage. Your fingers grasp a thin object. Dimly, through the red mist, you realise the tides are turning, your luck is in; for you have come into your possession a weapon mightier than most in the world of movies: the humble pen.

Many a movie fight has conveniently been won this way. I suppose this is typical of the cinematic world because we all know, in real life, you can never find a bloody pen when you want one. And the chances of one finding your questing fingers during a fight are next to nil.

But then, maybe that’s why it works. Fate is a cruel mistress and likes to throw us a lifeline when we least expect it. Anyway, moving on. To celebrate the pen (and pencil), let’s look at movie scenes where this unassuming little object has briefly taken the limelight.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Guy flies through the window with a machine gun then comes at you with a knife, what do you do? Calmly grab a pen and dispatch him, that’s what. Jason Bourne, still absent memory, demonstrates how lethal a biro can really be. Pen vs. knife? The knife stood no chance.


Liar Liar
(1997)

‘The colour of the pen that I hold in my hand is…ROYAL BLUE!’ Jim Carrey at his overacting best in the late ’90s, as a lawyer condemned to tell the truth as the result of a birthday wish made by his son. Silly, but entertaining stuff.

The Naked Gun (1988)

The Japanese fighting fish; beautiful, graceful and elegant. Quickly gets skewered with a rare Samurai pen by Lieutenant Frank Drebin, Police Squad! The pen in question being unbreakable, impervious to everything but water. Pure comedy gold.


Shaun of the Dead
(2004)

‘You’ve got red on you.’ Shaun’s pen leaks on his shirt early on in the film: a portent of things to come and an observant nod to the mindless and banal comments people say every day. Here’s a little compilation from the film. Ah, zombie-filled memories.

The Dark Knight (2008)

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t have my boy here pull your head off? ‘How about a magic trick?'” Quite simply one of the best character entrances to a film in recent years. Heath Ledger’s Joker took us all by surprise. He begins with a simple pencil…


Batman
(1989)

Another entry for the Joker, this time Jack Nicholson’s flamboyant portrayal. Here he sports a wonderful feather quill pen, used to chilling effect to spear someone in the throat. Was Heath Ledger’s version in The Dark Knight an update of this scene? Both dark and compelling with a macabre sense of humour.

The Faculty (1998)

Always considered this film, directed by Robert Rodriguez, a bit of a guilty pleasure. With slightly cringing lines like ‘Aliens are taking over the fucking school’ and Famke Janssen asking for something ‘cherry flavoured’. This pen-related scene sees Josh Hartnett’s character stab his teacher in the eye, then watch in horror as he visibly dissolves.


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
(1989)

You’re Dr. Jones (Sean Connery) and you’re trapped in the body of a steel beast, otherwise known as a tank. You spot a chance to escape and end up grappling with the nearest Nazi soldier. Victory comes in the form of a squirting ink pen, leading your companion, Marcus Brody, to exclaim ‘The pen is mightier than the sword!

Goldeneye (1995)

Click, click, spin, click, spin, spin…BOOM! The old exploding pen trick. A classic Bond scene, building to an explosive finish. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond held captive, watching a programmer attempt to break a guidance code before Sean Bean’s bad guy rocket plummets back to earth. Little does he know he holds an explosive pen in his hand.