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The "Mask of Sanity" and "FlaskBack Sequence" Techniques in Films

Updated on July 8, 2012
Sometimes, sanity is only a mask for something far more sinister.
Sometimes, sanity is only a mask for something far more sinister.

Ever seen a film where there was a central character that you loved; a character that just seemed so likable that you even wish they were real. They were seen as a true hero throughout the film and seemed genuine with the other heroes and to be the voice of reason. Then in one scene, out of nowhere, this same character performs an act of horrific violence against the hero before revealing his or her's true allegiance as a villain. This to me is one of the greatest way of revealing a villain because by the time we see their true face, it's too late, we already like them.

Earlier, I wrote an article on how to make villains likable and I think this is a great method to do so and, at the same time, completely shock the audience; all audience members like a real shock and twist at times in the films they attend. An evil character covers his or her face with a mask of a sanity (a real term used in criminology) before showing the true horror beneath it in an act of supreme betrayal. Countless movies have embraced this method, with horror movies such as Scream, making it one of the main plot points in each installment.

This method also adds a lot of value to the movie itself as many viewers will be enticed to watch it again and look for clues that point to this character's true agenda. Suddenly, unexplained words or actions make sense as they were truly building up and hinting to the ultimate twist of the movie. This is truly a great way to make the movie become valuable to the audience even after they watched it once. It also presents a highly disturbing theme and message; not everyone is truly who they say they are and, sometimes, sanity is only a mask.

Chances are is that most people have seen a film that had a plot point like this and felt just as betrayed by this character as the other heroes in the film dis. This proves that movies that can tell this plot point well can very well get their audience and their emotions involved within their film, which is what every filmmaker really wants at the end of the day for his or her viewers. The amount of things that this one plot twist can accomplish is really amazing and can be all the hype of the movie. One incredible scene can just make the entire film for an audience and this type of plot point can very easily be one of them.

Other methods that can be mixed in with this one could be perhaps the use of flashback sequences. Start the movie off with this character already in there evil status, but then segment some portions of the movie with flashback sequences that explain how the movie led up to the opening moments and have them same character be truly engaging and likable. It would seem impossible to pull off, but it truly can be if handled carefully enough. It also gives the audience a sense of discovery as they learn the full story and fill in the blanks, effectively completing the story in a unique, full circle way.

The idea of watching the protagonists of the film being swayed by a charming character who we know is evil is a very disturbing and engaging one. It makes the movie that much more suspenseful because we as viewers know what is in store for our heroes and yet, they don't, so we are left in suspense and nervousness for them and their eventual fate. Going even a step further above that, we may even still like this "mask of sanity" character in the flashback sequences even when we know what they will become in just a few more scenes.

These two methods, the mask of sanity and flashback sequences, really do a lot to add mystery and intrigue to a movie, pulling audiences in with their emotions. These methods are both generally engaging by themselves, but sometimes, combining them can have even better, ultimate payoff.


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