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Peeling off the Mask

posted by Dave, Jen and Paul on 11/09/01

What is the real point of "Mask"? Is Rocky Dennis a hero or a villain? Whatever-Dude's motley crew offer their individual perspectives.

Our beauty is on the inside:


Now I know what a lot of readers are probably thinking.. It's pretty cruel to devote a whole week to making fun of a movie "based on a true story"… Well, that's just it.. we're making fun of the movie.. and not the true story. I'd actually be curious to hear what Rocky's life was "really" like and not the Holywood-ized version of it. I'm sure the true story is a lot less cut and dry.. and a lot more heartwarming in it's own way.

The movie version of this young man's story is such a jumbled mess, I don't even know where to begin. The director, Peter Bogdanovich is trying to make the tone and message of the movie so clear, "That true beauty is on the inside".. yet he doesn't realize that the material he is presented with his not really supporting what he's trying to cram down people's throats.

The key to why I can look at this movie and not feel too much remorse picking it apart is quite simple. While trying so hard to come across with a "true beauty is on the inside message".. never once do they give Rocky a scene where he's being beautiful on the inside. From the get-go, he cons his best and only true friend, Ben, out of his Rube Walker baseball card. Don't you think if he just said, "Hey Ben.. I need that Rube Walker for my 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers collection.. Here though, since I have three Steve Garveys, I'll give you two of them for it.", that Ben would have given it to him? The kicker is, Rocky was proud that he had "conned" Ben out of his Rube Walker.. that I guess he was overlooking the fact that an early 70's Steve Garvey is worth more than a 1955 "common" card. Rube Walker was important to Rocky, and yet when Red and the gang gave him a Steve Garvey, he looked at them like they were idiots because they couldn't remember the name of the player he needed. Ruby Walters? Then he "conned" Ben out of the card.. and later in the movie called him "stupid" because he had made that trade. That summarizes Rocky perfectly, cause Rube Walker was important to him, it should have been just as important to everybody else.

How's about I trade you these magic beans for your Rube Walker, dummy.

When Rocky went to school, just from the way he presented the whole Helen of Troy story, we get the impression that he's smart.. but he's not really that smart, cause he told the story pretty half assed. Later on, when he came home with a poem that he got an "A" on.. it was clear that obviously some teachers were treating him sympathetically.. and not just like everybody else… I mean, c'mon does this poem deserve an "A"??

These things are good.
Ice cream and cake.
A ride on a Harley.
Seeing monkeys in trees.
The rain on my tongue.
And the sun shining on my face.

These things are a drag.
Dust in my hair.
Holes in my shoes.
No money in my pocket.
And the sun shining on my face.

Here's a poem that I had written in college.. Strangely enough, I got a "D" on it.

These things are good.
Making a great bobbling save while almost dropping the soap in the shower.
Finding a ten dollar bill in my winter coat from last year.
Flame broiled Whoppers.
Having a really drunk girl grab your junk in public.
And the sun shining on my big half Italian/half Jew nose.

These things are a drag.
Having to take a shit while out at a bar.
Not being able to find my shoes after a night of drinking.
Fat chicks.
And the sun shining on my big half Italian/half Jew nose.

This sympathy shown by the school became much more evident at the year end awards when Rocky pretty much won every award there. I mean c'mon, this was worse than watching the Academy placate Robin Williams by giving him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting, just so we could see commercials for Bicentennial Man stating, "starring Academy Award winner, Robin Williams.." and the little girl from the Pepsi commercials who is solely there to make sure Robin Williams is guaranteed not to be the mostannoying person in the movie.

Do you have a half hour? I need to say a sentence to you.

When Rocky goes to the camp for the blind.. he obviously has some ulterior motives going on. From the second he stepped off the bus, he was on the prowl for some nice visually impaired poontang pie.

Is this the corner of Know-Your-Role Blvd. And Jabroni Dr.?

Seriously, Rocky's supposed to be there as a counselor's aide… yet there's only one scene where he is even remotely helping out campers.. and that's when he's leading a group of four of them over to the kickball he can unload them and go try and find the hot little blond he had his eye on earlier. From there on out, he only spends his time with Diana, trying to get into her pants.

Now the funny part is, Diana is blind.. which is her flaw… just as Rocky's looks are his flaw. Yet, just as he wants people to accept him for who he is on the inside… he can't do the same with Diana. When she tells him that she doesn't understand color because she's been blind by birth.. he has to push on her what his view of the human experience should be like.. by trying to show her what colors "look" like by sticking hot and cold rocks in her hand.

If ya smellalalalalalaowww!!! What the Rock is cookin.

When Diana's parents come to pick her up, she tells them that Rocky was voted "Best Buddy" and "Friendliest Camper" , which I guess makes sense because he spent all of his time with Diana and ignoring the job he was getting a free ride to camp to perform. Once again.. must've beem sympathetic judges for that contest.

At the end, when things start falling apart.. and Ben has to cancel the trip to Europe because he wants to go back and live with his Dad.. He tries to explain to Rocky that he has a job lined up to make decent money.. but instead of realizing that Ben's not happy in California.. and a move back East might be the best thing for him… Rocky goes off on him and lets his true colors come out. He calls Ben stupid and kicks him out of the house.

I'm pretty sure that at this point, Rocky knew that his health was in decline.. so the fact that he let Ben leave without even saying goodbye to him was pretty selfish. Think how Ben must've felt a few weeks later after he received the news that Rocky died. My bet is that he felt pretty shitty. Nice one, Rock.

Ben, don't go away mad... Ben just go away.

I can't honestly name one selfless or kind act that Rocky performed throughout the course of this movie.. and how am I the viewer supposed to see the intended point of the movie, that he was "beautiful on the inside".. when he really wasn't. If anything.. and like Jen pointed out in one of the article's earlier this week.. it was Dozer and Ben who were truly more exemplary of the whole point. Dozer was a mute.. but he went out of his way to do nice things for Rocky.. Ben was an imbecile.. but he still treated Rocky with respect and never resorted to even hinting about what Rocky really looked like. Rocky on the other hand, was just a pretty mean and selfish individual.. or at least that's how the material presented itself. Beauty on the inside is what counts.. but that just wasn't evident with the protagonist of this movie. He was pretty much an ugly person all around. I'm thinking the real life Roy L. Dennis probably deserved a little bit better than this film about him.

Dave - Next up, Ishtar Week


The lessons behind the Mask:

There are a lot of Aesop-inspired life lessons to take away from Mask. We learned that beauty is only skin deep, as Rocky's inner beauty manifested itself despite his hideous appearance. We have learned not to judge a book by its cover, as evidenced by Rocky's friend Eric Dempsey, who looked like he was gonna be the Billy Zabka of the movie, but turned out to be a good friend and confidante. Slow and steady wins the race is another good Aesop fable; it didn't appear in this movie, but it's a good lesson. But for, the most important lesson that came out of this movie was that the less we have, the happier we are.

The visual cure for rampant horniness.

In the beginning of the movie, Rocky had little. He was fatherless, had only one friend, and only a smattering of material possessions, but was saddled with a face that definitely wouldn't launch a thousand ships. But he was happy. When he went to the doctor's office and was told the "great news" that his jaw had only grown an 1/8th of an inch since his last check-up, he put on his game face (is that possible?) and made a lighthearted joke about it, "Gee, I'm cured!" After taking a long look in the mirror at his horrid appearance, Rocky simply turns to the doctors and says, referring to his skimpy nightgown, "When you gonna invent one of these things so a guy's rear-end isn't always hanging out?"

When people said he looked like Frankenstein, instead of coming back with something appropriate like, "Eat shit," Rocky comes back with a casual, "What's the matter, haven't you seen anyone from the planet Vultran before? Beep. Beep, beep." Even when the school principal, a man who is supposed to be a beacon of diplomacy, looks at Rocky in disgust, instead of flipping him off, Rocky says, "Don't worry Mr. Simms, I look weird, but I'm real normal."

One of my other personal favorite scenes, is in the classroom, when the teacher announces two new students. First we have Miss Nancy Lawrence. Where are you, Nancy?" Then, in the first time in the history of new student introduction, one student says sexually, "Where are you Nancy?," another one smooches the air, and the entire class of students claps. Nancy's 5 seconds of fame allow her to say, "Wow!! Thanks a lot!" Now, no offense to Miss Lawrence, but in the words of Tamara Lowery, "She ain't even all that." Of course, when the teacher introduces Rocky Dennis, nobody says a word. Rocky jokingly says, "Wow. Thanks a lot." With this quip, the whole class laughs, not at him, but with him, and after that he starts to make friends.

After this point, Rocky finds it easier to make friends with some of the track stars and such, again, because of his positive attitude. The movie progresses with him swallowing some pretty severe remarks, just because of his great attitude.

At the pinnacle of the movie, Rocky wins a number of awards at his graduation and then goes to a camp for the blind, where he meets and falls in love with a beautiful girl. When he returns from camp, you would think his attitude would have improved exponentially, but it doesn't.

"Cotton balls are billowy.. My balls bouncing around in your mouth is beautiful!"

Instead, Rocky seems less able to take criticism from people. When Ben tells him he can't go to Europe with him, Rocky freaks out and throws Ben out of the house. When he calls Diana (his love) and she isn't home, he slams down the phone in childish anger. When he returns to school and one kid angrily says, "If that's a mask he's wearing, I SURE WISH HE'D TAKE IT OFF!!!!" instead of blowing it off as usual, Rocky grabs the kid by the neck and throws him into a locker growling, "I'll take my mask off if you take your mask off, you sonofabitch."

Seriously, if you've never seen this movie before, this scene right here is reason enough to watch it. The kid who made that remark looked so animated and angry about Rocky not being attractive, it was ridiculous. You see this awful pall go over his face and the intensity of his voice rises to a crescendo right as Rocky passes him by. It's almost as if the kid thinks Rocky grew the ugly just to offend him or something.

"You're not exactly Donny Osmond yourself, asshole!"

Anyway, the point is, sometimes people, as they accumulate more, be it possessions or friends or whatever, realize that it's never enough. Think about it…the people who always have a boyfriend or girlfriend, are never content to just be alone. The people who make 6 or 7 figure salaries, are often the ones driven to work more hours just to accumulate more and more. Maybe it wasn't healthy for Rocky to be content with a stagnant, futureless life, it's just interesting to note the change in behavior caused by events that logically should have made him happier. And with that slightly vacant conclusion, I am finished talking about Mask. Dave, Paul, Mask fans, I'm sorry but I don't have anything left to give.



"Mask", to me, has always been a pretty touching movie with a lot of deep themes coursing through the narrative. The obvious and striking point that the film-makers try to hammer home is that "beauty isn't skin-deep". Using Rocky Dennis as their poster boy for this overdone mantra, your first impression is that they hit the traget. But while I wouldn't go out my way to call Rocky a bad character, he's not as pure as we're first tricked into believing. The movie does lull you into that trap, but it's taken my, say, fifty viewings to realize that there's more going on here.

Rocky is not a pretty guy, but his unsightly face and high-pitched voice fool us into believing this is the second coming - sympathy for him clouds our judgment. That seems to affect most characters in this movie. At the end of the day, what does he do for anyone, except for his mother? The good things that he does, like patronizing his Mom about getting off drugs, is possibly for his own benefit - sure, he loves her, but isn't it possible he only wants her around so she can tell him fairy stories whenever he's bothered by the pains in his over-sized head? And, while she has total compassion for him, he is less understanding. He accepts that she's no saint, but he doesn't even try to empathize about why she might be taking drugs.

A big clue to why she might be taking drugs (other than wanting to hear Jewish guys asking other men to recommend hair-care products) is the immense pressure she's under; he does, to his credit, try to keep the ship afloat, but she also does a lot for him - getting him into a regular school, treating him as normal, introducing him to Gar and nursing him when sick. How does he re-pay her? Well, he gets angry at her for going out. She then tells him to do the dishes and he smashes the f'n plates! Can you imagine this scenario if it was with a "normal" kid? There'd be zero audience empathy. Rocky is essentially a spoiled brat.

He may have to take some shit because of his looks, but he's more than compensated in other ways.

Think about it. Besides being given preferential treatment by the establishment, everyone in his circle bends over backwards for Rocky. They'll buy him trading cards and give him a by-ball if he's throwing a hissy fit. Gar bought him a suit, his grandparents took him to the Dodgers' game and Dozer gave him a map. What did Rocky ever get these people? For me, one of the pivotal scenes in the whole movie is when Rusty's parents come to visit. This reveals, more than ten minutes of dialogue or constructed "messages" ever could, the true dynamic at play. Just before her folks arrive, we see Rusty and Gar in her room. She is tense. She reaches for some pills. Gar tells her "maybe you should play this one straight. Give your old man a chance."

Anyone seen my baseball?

There you go. Instantly we know why Rusty takes drugs. All her life, from an early age, she was made to feel inferior. Did Rocky even bother to ask this? Sure, he can go around telling prostitutes that they have a "real shitty attitude", but it's easier to point the finger than try to get to the root of the problem. During this scene, we see all the old animosities stirred up. We see Rusty's dad making zingers about his daughter's failings. We see Rusty getting annoyed. We see Gar standing back, drinking tea and being cool - he has no reason to get involved in family squabbles. And besides, he gets off on her feistiness. But what of Rocky? When his mother - the same mother who protected his honor in the doctor's office and in front of Mr Simms - is being made to feel like a reject, what does he do? Does he speak up for his mother? Does he try to ease the tension? Oh no, the selfish asshole walks out of the room. Obviously he was too concerned about getting his well-hidden Dodgers' tickets to worry about his Mom's feelings.

Then when he comes home from the game, he has the audacity to get pissed at her for being loaded.

In some ways, you could think of this as American Dream movie going awry. It's about learning to cope with your failings and learning to accept. And, of course, looking more closely at those around us. The ironic thing is, Rocky is just as guilty of misjudging society as anyone. He has no sympathy for his friend, Ben. There is never a moment when he tries to help his troubled friend. Sure, it's much easier to lull him into going to Europe, judas him in baseball card trading and then call him "so stupid" when he's unable to travel. Nor do any of the services he provides have any altruistic or generous undertones. He charges students a considerable sum of money for algebra tutoring, he is a babysitter for hire and he only wants to go to blind camp because it's a free trip and he might be able to get his possibly huge weiner into someone who can't see his face. It's all about him. None of the money he gets goes back into the house nor does he buy any gifts; it's all needed for his stupid tacks, cards and to save some money for his big European adventure.

Europe and 1955. Two places Rocky Dennis, unlike Marty Mc Fly, will never be.

The European trip, for me, is a metaphor for escape and that plays into the American Dream. Rocky wants to go somewhere new, start afresh and just be free. Deep down, he knows it's unlikely, but since he's passionate about that prided American sport (baseball), he knows that an elusive dream isn't a bad thing to have. What strikes me as odd is that for someone who's living with a facial disfigurement his motives are less than pure. No sooner is he at blind camp than he's already putting the moves on one of the hottest blind chicks you'll ever see. This proves that he thinks beauty is on the outside, because out of all the oblivious girls he could have chosen, he opted for the prettiest one stroking the horse. Does this not show that Rocky is as shallow as the people we're supposed to dislike in this movie? I'll freely concede that personality is a key requirement in a relationship, but does Diana love Rocky because of his soul or because he showed an interest?

"Your face seems ok to me?" "That wasn't my face, it was just some acne."

Judging by their rather bland conversations, it'd be fair to say Rocky was using poor Diana for sex. Think about it: how could two people be in love when their dialogue consists of talking about clouds and how Rocky "doesn't really look like Adonis"? The very fact that, after feeling his face, Diana didn't retreat, showed that her love was pure. How did Rocky prove his love? Well, he said he was in love, but after calling Diana a few times on the phone and getting no answer, he cried like a big baby and went to see her.

Let me sum up your feelings...

He visited Diana at her stable, repulsing her friend and basically ending the relationship when he heard she was leaving the state. She never even got his calls or his tapes (?), because her parents didn't tell her - they probably knew he was just using her for sex. Yet, Rocky displays his nature by not even trying to make the relationship work, proving that unless are 100% on his terms, he'll just cave in. Selfish asshole.

"Is this the guy who looks like Adonis? OMG LOL!"

Above all, the movie seems to be about heart. You really do have to admire Rocky's heart and his resilience. I mean, it's really quite enviable. Put it this way: if I had a pimple on my face, I'd have been reluctant to speak up in class, yet this kid tells a whole story in front of his classmates; he's also unashamed about showing up to his graduation and thinks nothing about busting other people's balls. The guy is a walking bag of confidence. He knows his appearance is frightening but that doesn't stop him meeting Diana's parents, and it certainly didn't stop him from thinking he had a shot at one tasty piece of blind tail. That's more than I would have done, and higher than I'd have ever estimated himself.

I suppose Rocky's story proves that confidence is king. At the end of the day, didn't he have a pretty good life? Didn't his confidence and selfishness help him get by?

Go now: Dream big, live for the moment and stick tacks in maps.

AOL IM: paulwdfans

Dave, Jen and Paul
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We hope you've enjoyed Rocky Dennis week here at It's certainly been a lot of fun to write and we look forward to more special "themed" weeks - if you have any specific article requests, feel free to pass on the feedback. We love you all very much.

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