Mask is an 1985 American drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Cher, Sam Elliott, and Eric Stoltz. Dennis Burkley and Laura Dern are featured in supporting roles. Cher received the 1985 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress.[1] The film is based on the life and early death of Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis, a boy who suffered from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, an extremely rare disorder known commonly as lionitis due to the disfiguring cranial enlargements that it causes. Mask won the Academy Award for Best Makeup while Cher and Stoltz received Golden Globe nominations for their performances.


In 1979 Azusa, California, Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz), who suffers from a skull deformity, is accepted without question by his freewheeling biker mother's boyfriends, his "extended motorcycle family", and his maternal grandparents (who share his love of baseball card collecting) but treated with fear, pity, awkwardness and teasing by those unaware of his humanity, humor and intelligence. Rocky's mother, Florence "Rusty" Dennis (Cher) is determined to give Rocky as normal a life as possible, in spite of her own wild ways as a member of the biker gang named Turks.[2] She fights for Rocky's inclusion in a mainstream junior high school, and she confronts a principal who would rather classify Rocky as mentally retarded and relegate him to a special education school to fulfill his special needs. Rusty asks the principal if they teach "algebra, biology and English at this school, because...these are Rocky's needs."

Rocky goes on to thrive at school. He wins friends by assisting a locker neighbor in remembering his combination. Using humor when faced with an awkward silence during roll call, Rocky just repeats the prior new student's line "Wow, thanks a lot." The class turns to smile and laugh with Rocky. He shows his brilliance in History class by giving a terrific rendition of the Greek myth about the Trojan Horse and it being the starting [sic] point of the Trojan War. Gradually overcoming discrimination and tutoring his classmates for $3 per hour, the principal asks Rocky to accept a job as a counselor's aide at Camp Bloomfield, a summer camp for the junior blind. At his graduation from junior high, Rocky takes home the academic achievement prizes in mathematics, history, and science.

Rocky feels the need to leave his chronically depressed and drug-addicted mother, and in a tough-love way, he helps Rusty help herself break her drug habit. At camp, Rocky falls in love with Diana Adams (Laura Dern), a blind girl who cannot see (but feels) his deformed countenance and is entranced by Rocky's kindness and compassion. Rocky uses his intelligence to explain to Diana the sighted words like billowy, clouds, red, and green by using cotton balls as a touchable vision of billowy clouds, a warm rock to explain red and pink, and a frozen rock to explain icy blue. Diana introduces Rocky to her parents, who have a suspicious feeling about Rocky, due to his appearance. It becomes clear that Diana is overprotected by her parents, who don't give any of his messages to her, nor is she allowed to answer the phone when Rocky calls from home.

Near the end of the film, Rocky faces the pain of separation from two people he is closest to. His girlfriend goes away to a Special School for the Blind and his dream of motorbike trip through Europe collapses when his best friend, Ben, who was to come with him tells him that he is moving back to Michigan for good. This drives Rocky into berating Ben and calls him "stupid", then finally reveals to Ben that he conned him out of a Rube Walker card. However, Rocky feels better after taking a bus trip by himself to visit Diana at the equestrian stables, located near Griffith Park. Diana tells Rocky that she never received the phone messages from her parents, and this visit was to be Rocky's final encounter with Diana. One evening when Rocky's "Biker Family" is visiting, Rocky is fighting a fierce headache and quietly withdraws to his room, removes the tacks from his map of Europe, and goes to bed. However, Rocky dies in his sleep during the night. On the next morning, Rusty, who tries to wake up Rocky for school, flies into a fit of grief-stricken rage when she realizes he has died. After destroying the kitchen, Rusty re-pins his map of Europe and says, "Now you can go anywhere you want, Baby."

The movie ends with Rocky's biker family, Rusty, Gar and Dozer, visiting his grave, leaving flowers and some 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards by his headstone. A prized poem Rocky penned earlier in the movie closes the film:

These things are good:
Ice cream and cake,
A ride on a Harley,
Seeing monkeys in the 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.

Soundtrack issuesEdit

Bogdanovich had originally intended to use several Bruce Springsteen songs on the film's soundtrack, but due to an impasse between Universal and Springsteen's label, Columbia Records, the songs were pulled from the film and replaced with songs by Bob Seger for the original theatrical release, prompting a $19 million lawsuit by Bogdanovich against the studio.[3] The Springsteen songs were eventually restored for the 2004 director's cut DVD of the film.


In popular cultureEdit

  • The scene in which Diana feels Rocky's face is parodied in the animated series Family Guy during the episode "Petarded". In this cut-away gag, Diana is vocally disconcerted by the texture of Rocky's face, and describes it as a "Pelvis".
  • Comedy Central's Tosh.0 used a picture of Eric Stoltz's portrayal of Rocky in a skit making fun of Shaun White, claiming it was his yearbook photo. TBS's Lopez Tonight used a similar picture in a skit making fun of American Idol Contestant Jimmy Kennedy, claiming the movie was a sighting of Kennedy before his Idol audition.[4]
  • A similar disfigured character is portrayed in the science fiction drama The X-Files during the episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus". The disfigured boy is called Mutato by people in his town who have rejected him from society. Mutato watches Mask obsessively and dreams of one day meeting Cher, a dream which is fulfilled at the end of the episode.


Reviews were highly positive: Roger Ebert wrote of the film, "A wonderful movie, a story of high spirits and hope and courage." A contrasting review in the New York Times read in part "Mask is one of those movies that try so hard to get their supposedly universal message across (don't we all hide behind a mask of one sort or another?) that they are likely to put your teeth on edge more often than they bring one little, lonely teardrop to the eye."[5]

As of December 2012, the film has a 93% "fresh" rating on[6]

Box officeEdit

The film was a box office success garnering $48,230,162 in total.[7]

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit

Template:Peter Bogdanovich

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