Mask (1985 film)

Mask is a 1985 American biographical drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Cher, Sam Elliott, and Eric Stoltz with supporting roles played by Dennis Burkley, Laura Dern, Estelle Getty, and Richard Dysart. Cher received the 1985 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress.[2] The film is based on the life and early death of Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis, a boy who had 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 at the 58th ceremony, while Cher and Stoltz received Golden Globe Award nominations for their performances.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Bogdanovich
Produced byMartin Starger
Written byAnna Hamilton Phelan
Music byDennis Ricotta
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited byBarbara Ford
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • March 8, 1985 (1985-03-08)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7.5 million
Box office$48.2 million[1]


In Azusa, California in 1978, Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis (Eric Stoltz), who has craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, is accepted without question by those who know and love him: the boyfriends of his freewheeling biker mother, particularly Gar (Sam Elliott); his "extended motorcycle family"; and his maternal grandparents Abe and Evelyn Steinberg (Richard Dysart and Estelle Getty), and with whom Abe shares his love of baseball card collecting. However, many others fail to see his humanity, intelligence and humor and thus respond to his unusual appearance with fear, pity, awkwardness, and uncertainty. 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 Turks biker club, as well as her strained relationship with her father. She fights for Rocky's inclusion in a mainstream junior high school and confronts a principal who would rather relegate him to a special education school, despite the fact that his condition hasn't affected his intelligence. They then go to the doctor for Rocky's semi-annual physical, where Rocky claims to be feeling well, despite continuing headaches, which his mother can sing away without medicine. A young doctor tells Rusty that Rocky will probably not live for more than six months. Rusty scoffs at this claim, as doctors have previously made failed predictions that Rocky would be blind and suffer other maladies.

Rocky goes on to thrive at school. He wins friends by assisting a fellow student with remembering his locker 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 entertains his history class by giving a rendition of the story of the Trojan Horse and it being the turning point of the Trojan War. Gradually overcoming discrimination and tutoring his classmates for $3 per hour, Rocky is asked by the principal to accept a job as a counselor's aide at Camp Bloomfield, a summer camp for blind children. Unsure, he declines the invitation, but says he'll think about it.

Rocky tells his mother that he needs a suit to go to his graduation. He is dismissed by the Turks and Gar tells him to get a beer from the refrigerator. To his surprise, Rocky finds a suit inside, which he gladly thanks everybody for. At his graduation from junior high, Rocky takes home academic achievement prizes in math, science, English, and history. Dozer, a biker who loves Rocky and has a thick stammer, tells Rocky that he is proud of his achievements.

After a visit from Rocky's grandparents, where Rocky's grandfather continuously puts Rusty down, they take Rocky to a baseball game. They return to find Rusty in a drug-induced stupor. Afterwards, Rocky feels the need to get away from his mother, to help her break her drug habit, and accepts the job as the counselor's aid.

At camp, Rocky falls in love with Diana Adams (Laura Dern), a blind girl who cannot see his deformed skull and is entranced by Rocky's kindness and compassion. Rocky uses his intelligence to explain to Diana words like "billowy", "clouds", "red", "green", and "blue" 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 are put-off by Rocky's appearance, and do not want Diana to spend time with him.

Near the end of the film, Rocky faces the pain of separation from the two people to whom he feels closest. His dream of a motorbike trip through Europe collapses when his best friend Ben (Lawrence Monoson), who was to go with him, tells him that he is dropping out of school and moving back to Michigan to work for his father. This drives Rocky into berating Ben and calling him "stupid", using a valuable baseball card he conned Ben out of to prove his point. However, Rocky feels better after taking a bus trip by himself to visit Diana at the equestrian stables, located near Griffith Park. They share a romantic moment, and Diana tells Rocky that her mother prevented her from receiving his phone messages. But then, she reveals that she is going away immediately to a private school for the blind, and cannot be with him. To add to this, Red, a member of his biker family dies (presumably from cancer). High school, where none of his friends are, further adds to his troubles: where he used to respond to taunts with wit and humor, he responds to a boy by pushing him against a locker and calling him a son of a bitch.

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 wall map of Europe, and goes to bed. The next morning, Rusty tries to wake up Rocky for school and flies into a fit of grief-stricken rage when she realizes he has died in his sleep. After destroying the kitchen, Rusty mourns the death of Rocky and says "Now you can go anywhere you want, baby." She then re-pins his map of Europe.

The movie ends with Rusty, Gar, and Dozer visiting his grave, leaving flowers and some baseball cards by his headstone and a voice-over by Rocky himself, who recites the poem he wrote for English class earlier in the film.



Rusty Dennis sold the film rights to Rocky's life story for $15,000, most of which went to pay medical bills for her son Joshua who was undergoing AIDS treatments.[3] She originally hoped the film would focus on Rocky's life and intrepid personality rather than giving equal emphasis to her story, but was won over by Cher's role, stating: "Cher depicted the way I am very well. I always thought I was perfectly normal, that the rest of the world is nuts."

In 1984 camp scenes for the movie were filmed at Camp Bloomfield. Campers and staff got a preview of the finished film at Universal Studios in February, 1985.

Bogdanovich had originally intended to use several songs by Bruce Springsteen, the real Rocky Dennis' favorite singer. But due to an impasse between Universal Pictures 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. Bogdanovich sued Universal for $19 million, alleging the film studio switched the music without his approval in violation of his final cut privilege.[4] The Springsteen songs were eventually restored for the 2004 director's cut DVD of the film.


Box officeEdit

The film was a box office success, garnering US$48,230,162 in total.[5]

Critical receptionEdit

Reviews were mostly positive. As of July 15, 2020, the film has a 93% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 28 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10.[6]

Roger Ebert wrote of the film, "A wonderful movie, a story of high spirits and hope and courage," with Stoltz's performance establishing a believable character that transcends his deformity and Cher's characterization of Rusty as "one of the most interesting movie characters in a long time."[7] Gene Siskel described Mask as "superb" and also singled out Cher's portrayal of Rusty as the heart of the film, but criticized the marketing campaign that kept Stoltz's face secretive as a revival of a freak show mentality.[8] Dolores Barclay of the Associated Press declared Mask was "directed with great sensitivity by Peter Bogdanovich" and carried by Cher and Stoltz's performances but believed the depiction of Rusty's biker friends was "perhaps a bit too sanitized to be believable."[9] A contrasting review by Vincent Canby 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."[10]


Michael Westmore and Zoltan Elek won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling in the 58th Academy Awards.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in the 2006 list for AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Mask (1985)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2017-08-12. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Mask". Archived from the original on 2012-11-05. Retrieved 2009-06-28.
  3. ^ a b Witt, Linda (11 May 1986). "An Unusual Mother: Helping Her Children Face Down Death (3 of 4)". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 26 April 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  4. ^ London, Michael (1985-02-27). "Legal Snarl: Springsteen or Seger?". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2012-03-09. Retrieved 2010-01-07.
  5. ^ "Mask (1985)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 12 August 2017. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  6. ^ "Mask (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on 12 December 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (22 March 1985). "Mask". Ebert Digital LLC. Archived from the original on 21 April 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2020-02-29. Retrieved 2019-10-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2020-08-03. Retrieved 2019-10-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Canby, Vincent (8 March 1985). "Mask: Bogdanovich Tale of Rare Disease". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 11 April 2018. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 April 2019. Retrieved 14 August 2016.

External linksEdit