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Mask: My Thoughts on Rocky, Rusty and the Gang
I don't like watching sad films, but when I do, it means they were worth it. One such movie that made an impact on me is the 1985 drama Mask, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, and starring Cher and Eric Stoltz (best remembered for his roles in the youth films The Wild Life and Some Kind of Wonderful).
The film is based on the true story of the late Roy Lee "Rocky" Dennis (played by Stoltz), a teenage boy afflicted with a rare bone illness (lionitis) which disfigures his face. Despite his malady, Rocky, a baseball card collector, struggles to fit in with his schoolmates, succeeds in winning a girl, but desperately tries to change the wild ways of his mom, Rusty (played by Cher), whose parents and motorcycle gang are his only family and friends.
When I first saw Rocky, my heart cracked. I asked myself, "What if that were my own son?"
Yet, I admire his determination to live like any normal boy, even excelling in the high school where the principal (played by Ben Piazza) initially advises his mom that he were better off in a special institution suited for his ailment.
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.— Rocky Dennis (1961-1978)
What touches me, too, is the kindness that Rocky's grandparents (played by Richard Dysart and Estelle Getty) show him when they take him to a baseball game. Moreover, it's consoling to watch how a girl (played by Laura Dern) falls in love with Rocky at a summer camp where they meet. (There's a heartbreaking fact about her, though. I won't tell.)
As for Rusty, I'm afraid I look at her with disdain. I dislike the fact that she goes on with her drug addiction and shamelessly brings home a hooker to her son, after he tells her that he opts for surgery so he could go out with girls. In another scene where she argues with Rocky, she takes one of his cards and tears it in half.
Being a mother myself, I'm disappointed in Rusty for behaving as such, considering her son's condition. But my thoughts on her immediately change when – after a dispute with Rocky – she suddenly mellows and warms up to him with maternal affection.
I also like the character Gar (played by Sam Elliott) – Rusty’s biker-boyfriend – who is a father image to Rocky (Thoughout the film, nothing much is said about Rocky’s real father.). He goes out of his way to take the boy to an amusement park, and he and his biker-friends pitch in to buy Rocky a suit for his school recognition day.
As for the acting, I must credit Cher for delivering a superb performance truly deserving of her Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award.
When I learned that Mask won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, I decided to read up on the life of Rocky Dennis. Stoltz’s makeup, indeed, bears a strong resemblance to the face of the real Rocky.
I watch Mask now and then to draw valuable lessons from it, and share them with others. It's a good movie to make us mature, as it dares us to regard people with abnormalities as mere humans. It's worth keeping the DVD, if only to remind our youngsters that like the Beauty and the Beast tale, true beauty in a human really lies within.
Here are some clips from the movie:
Principal's office scene with Cher, Eric Stoltz and Ben Piazza
Rocky with the medical staff
About Rocky's health condition
Rocky's first day at school
Rocky talking to hooker Lorrie (Kelly Jo Minter)
Rocky showing his intelligence in a history class
Would you befriend someone with a deformed face?
Here are other Eric Stoltz and Cher films that I enjoyed :
It’s worth keeping this in the home library.