Saturday, May 09, 2009

Eyes Without A Face

Who Are You? Who Who? Who Who? No, this is not CSI.

A few weeks ago I watched this old Japanese movie called The Face Of Another. It was made in the 60's in black and white with an intriguing plot about a scientist who has become facially disfigured in a lab accident. The disfigurement causes the scientist to be bitter, paranoid and alienated from all around him including his wife. Then a doctor offers a new experiment in the form of a lifelike facial mask that can be worn for a few hours at a time and give the appearance of being "normal". The story overview reminded me a lot of Sam Raimi's Darkman so I gave the movie a shot.

The Face Of Another turned out to be a truly haunting movie, an extended trip through the dark side of the meaning of identity. The scientist is miserable and harsh towards his wife, accusing her of wanting to be away from him and needling her with references to his plight. Meanwhile the wife displays understanding while stating the films central message: that everyone wears a mask of some type, whether it's facial bandages or women's makeup, just some masks are more visible than others.

Unknown to his wife, the scientist takes up a doctor's offer for a lifelike mask. The doctor wants to see how the mask affects the scientist, with a mask the scientist becomes a person with no past. Will the scientist return to his old life, start a new life, what morality will the new man have? The scientist starts a new life whose sole purpose is to have emotional vengeance on his old life, he wants to have an affair with his own wife.

At the same time there is a story of a young woman who is physically beautiful except for burn marks on her right cheek and ear. She hides the burns with her hair leaving others to believe she is a stuck up pretty girl until they see her burn marks. The shame she feels causes her to be reclusive from almost all but her brother as society judges her for being both beautiful and unattractive at the same time.

The twisted soul of this movie is brought to life with compassion and power by the filmmakers. Black and white helps heighten the stark mood. How much of identity is dictated by how you are viewed versus who you really are? The Face Of Another explores this question with disturbing directness. Because the ugliest thing can be cold indifference or spiteful hatred. If you're a fan of films that are provocative without being prurient, this is a good flick.

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