Unmasking the Society: The Use of Masks in Kubrick’s Films
AbstractThe mask, as a significant part of the film costume, was used by Stanley Kubrick in the critical sequences of The Killing (1956), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Allowing a disguised character to transgress the boundaries of socially accepted behaviour, the mask constitutes the space of his unrestrained action. However, a character’s integrity is threatened when the mask falls off and his wishes cannot be fulfilled. In this article I will analyse Kubrickʼs approach to mask as an item of paraphernalia, used in three films made in different periods of his career. Kubrick managed to apply the mask in a variety of ways in order to challenge barriers between the private and the public, good and evil, conscious and subconscious, real and unreal. In The Killing the mask, resembling the famous face of Weary Willie, conceals Johnny Clay during the robbery that will hopefully secure a better future for him. In A Clockwork Orange, the phallic mask becomes a symbol of Alex’s revolt against adults and their system of values. Finally, in Eyes Wide Shut, the mask reveals the false functionality of the real world and the significance of the social roles that conceal the true nature of individuals. Because of its complexity, the Somerton sequence will be approached through the long tradition of Venice carnivals as well by consulting the works of Belgian artist James Ensor who, like Kubrick, exploits mask as an instrument of cynical unmasking of the humankind. I will try to show that the employment of the mask motif is inextricably linked with the situations of existential crisis in which Kubrick deliberately perverts the primary purpose of the mask and from an instrument of disguise he twists it into a tool of exposure. Thus he forces his heroes to confront themselves, restore their threatened integrity and save their life, after all.
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