The Man Without a Face

The Man Without a Face is a 1993 American drama film starring and directed by Mel Gibson, in his directorial debut. The film is based on Isabelle Holland's 1972 novel of the same name. Gibson's direction received positive reviews from most critics.

The Man Without a Face
Man without a face movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMel Gibson
Produced byBruce Davey
Screenplay byMalcolm MacRury
Based onThe Man Without a Face
by Isabelle Holland
Music byJames Horner
CinematographyDonald McAlpine
Edited byTony Gibbs
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • August 25, 1993 (1993-08-25)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$24.7 million[1]


In 1968, Justin McLeod has been living an isolated existence as a reclusive painter for the past seven years, following a car accident that left him disfigured on the right side of his face and chest by burns sustained in the post-crash fire.

Chuck Nordstadt is a young boy who has endures a dysfunctional relationship with his academically brilliant half-sisters and their oft-divorced mother. One day, Chuck meets McLeod on a ferry when McLeod witnesses Chuck in an act of vandalism born of escalating frustration. Chuck is both intrigued and slightly scared of him. Chuck needs a tutor to help him pass a military academy's entrance exam that he'd failed earlier that year. Eventually, upon discovering that McLeod is a teacher, Chuck persuades him to become his tutor. While he is initially baffled by McLeod's unorthodox methods, the two, over time develop a close friendship.

Chuck keeps his daily meetings with McLeod a secret in order to avoid being scorned for associating with a disfigured man whose past is shrouded in mystery. No one knows much about McLeod and few people have ever made an effort to know him. As a result, McLeod has become the object of gossip, speculation, and suspicion. "A proper troll," McLeod notes with self-deprecating humour. "Tourist board oughta pay me."

Ultimately, Mrs. Nordstadt learns that her son has been visiting McLeod. She and the rest of the town convince themselves that McLeod is molesting Chuck, despite Chuck's adamant denials. Chuck researches McLeod's car accident, which involved the death of another boy, thus causing McLeod's fear of another attachment. Chuck is forcibly taken to a psychiatrist, who Chuck correctly suspects is also biased against McLeod.

Chuck inevitably confronts McLeod to learn the truth of his disfigurement and to discover the identity of the youth who was killed in the car crash. As it turns out, the boy was a student of McLeod's. Consequently, McLeod was unjustly branded a pedophile, was exiled from his hometown, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served three years in prison. Once his relationship with Chuck is openly known, McLeod is once again run out of town and ordered by the authorities not to have any contact with Chuck.

Chuck enters the military academy he'd worked so hard to get into. At mail call, he gets the letters he'd sent to McLeod, marked Undeliverable. Needing to know what's happened to his friend, Chuck quietly leaves his school that night, and goes back to McLeod's house. He finds it empty, but for a painting he'd done of Chuck that summer, and with the painting is a letter. The letter tells Chuck that he's moved on, and that he wishes him the best of luck in his academic goals, thanking him for the gift of grace he'd so unexpectedly been given.

In the film's final scene, Chuck is shown graduating from the military academy as his sisters and their mom (along with her newest husband) look on proudly. Chuck sees a familiar figure in the background and recognizes it as his "faceless" tutor. They silently greet each other.



The Man Without a Face was released on August 25, 1993, in 865 theatres. It ranked at #4 at the US box office, making $4.0 million in its opening weekend. In its second weekend, it opened in 1,065 theatres, grossed $5.4 million and ranked at #2. After five weeks in theatres, the film went on to gross $24.7 million.[1]


Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes, The Man Without a Face holds a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 23 reviews with an average rating of 5.7/10.[2] gave it three out of four stars, praising Gibson’s performance calling it "a reminder of his versatility; not many actors can fit comfortably in both Lethal Weapon and Hamlet (1990), and here he finds just the right note for McLeod: Not a caricature, not a softy, not pathetic, but fiercely sure of what is right and wrong".[3]

Treatment of sexualityEdit

The film's treatment of sexuality between Justin McLeod and Chuck Norstadt differs from the book by Isabelle Holland. In the original novel, McLeod behaves in a way that could be interpreted as child grooming, taking Chuck swimming and behaving affectionately toward him. Chuck, meanwhile, seems to be attracted to McLeod as more than just a father figure. There is one scene where it is strongly implied that Chuck and McLeod have some kind of sexual experience in his bedroom. In the film, McLeod demonstrates no sexual interest in the boy at all, even though Chuck appears downstairs in his underwear when the police officer calls. Critics have noted that the book's criticism of homophobia had been obscured in the film version.[citation needed]

Gibson has expressed dislike for the book because of its implied sexual contact between McLeod and Chuck: "I read the script first and that's what I liked. The book is just – I'm sorry, but the guy did it. And you know, like, why? I just wanted to say something a lot more positive."[4]

Urban legendEdit

Around the time of the release of Gibson's 2000 film The Patriot , and again around the time of the release of his 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, an Internet rumor falsely attributed to radio commentator Paul Harvey claimed this film was based on an actual incident that happened to Gibson as a young man. The rumor proved to be false.[5]


  1. ^ a b c "The Man Without a Face (1993)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 20, 2010.
  2. ^ "The Man Without a Face (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  3. ^ "he Man Without A Face movie review (1993)". August 25, 1993. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  4. ^ Joanna Conners (August 22, 1993). "The Many Faces of Mel". The Plain Dealer.
  5. ^ "The Man Without a Face]". Snopes. Retrieved 2011-09-30.

External linksEdit