Scream's Ghostface

The Enigma Behind Masked Characters

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There is a fragile beauty in the unknown and the masked characters that embody said pulchritude. The anonymity behind a mask often results in a collected amount of anticipation that builds up with the progression of a story. A mask is more than something that hides your identity. It is a symbol, an idea, an inspiration and a means to relinquish accountability. Thus, it is common for masked characters to claim the power of the mask to further their agenda.

Scooby, Fred, Velma and Daphne from "Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated," about to reveal the identity of a masked character.
Credit: Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, Warner Bros. Animation, 2010.

Is the allure of knowing the identity behind the mask worth unmasking a masked character? There are various films and shows in which the masked character plays a vital role in the development of the story. An example is the television series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. The beloved childhood classic features a gang of mystery-solving friends and their dog Scooby, as they unmask villainous characters. Each episode depends on the lack of identity offered by the masked villain in order for the main characters to solve the mystery. Without a masked character, there is no mystery.

A Revolutionary Movement

In films where masked characters remain masked, the mask becomes more than just the means used to hide their identity. V for Vendetta is a great example of this. The masked character, known only as V, incites a revolution that lays siege to a corrupt political system. He is able to do this by sheltering his identity with a mask. In the movie, he says:

“Beneath this mask, there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask, there is an idea, Mr. Credy, and the ideas are bulletproof.”

The crowd the masked character V inspired. The crowd is wearing Guy Fawkes masks.
Credit: V for Vendetta, Warner Bros. Production, 2006.

His use of a mask in this scenario sparked the fire of revolution and gave the people the courage necessary to unite as one behind a mask. The ideology behind the mask becomes the object of a movement bigger and more powerful than just one masked character.

Revealing The Identity Of A Masked Character

In the series Legend of Korra, the masked character known as Amon also incites a revolution. In a world where people had control over the elements, Amon founded the anti-bender revolutionary group known as the Equalists. The said group wanted to eliminate benders, who are people who could manipulate the elements.

The masked character had a loyal following because he possessed the ability to remove a person’s bending. However, once unmasked, Amon’s carefully developed plan was blown to bits and the people who followed him abandoned him. The reason behind this was the reveal of his identity. As a masked character, he gave Equalists the notion that a non-bender could take on benders and emerge victoriously. Consequently, the Equalists believed all who stood behind Amon had the power to fight against benders as well. This character being unmasked led to everyone realizing Amon was a bender. He became a hypocrite and the revolution was a fight without a cause.

The Legacy Of Masked Characters

From Dick Grayson to Jason Todd to Damian Wayne, the hero’s mantle has been passed down from Robin to Robin. The notion dates back to Batman Begins, a film that is centered around Bruce Wayne’s origin story as Batman. The foundation for this masked character is structured based on the following phrase:

“As a man, I am flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, I can be everlasting.”

The masked character Batman from the film Batman Begins.
Credit: Batman Begins, Warner Bros. Production and DC Films 2005

If everyone knew Bruce Wayne was Batman, the hero turns into a man with a tragic past wearing a mask. A man who considers himself above the law and who takes justice into his own hands. However, to the people of Gotham, Batman is so much more. By concealing his identity, Bruce Wayne has immortalized Batman. Thus, Batman is not a masked man, to the people of Gotham city he is hope and safety. The mask is more than one man, it is eternal. As long as there is someone willing to wear it, the symbol behind it will never die.

Fear Of The Unknown

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said,

“The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

The mind is a heavy burden, often warping the concept of reality into something much worse than it actually is. The expressionless face of a masked character with nefarious intentions is terrifying because of the unanswered question, who? In the film Scream, the masked character Ghostface is scary because not knowing the identity of the killer means anyone could be them.

The paranoia that follows this train of thought often causes characters to spiral into madness and make bad decisions that ultimately aid the killer. By never revealing the identity of the killer, the horror of the unknown remains prevalent in the film.

The Enticing Nature Of Danger

Nonetheless, concealing the identity of someone is not a mask’s sole purpose. A masked character whose identity is equally as frightening as the unknown is Hannibal Lecter. He is a cannibalistic serial killer guaranteed to send chills down your spine. Lecter’s famous mask does not prevent others from knowing who he is, instead, it highlights the aspects that make him dangerous.

The masked character Hannibal Lecter wearing a lower face mask.
Credit: The Silence of the Lambs, Strong Heart/Demme Productions 1991.

The mask becomes one thing that keeps the horrific possibility of a serial killer’s freedom at bay. The mask is the only thing restraining the devil that is Hannibal Lecter. Be that as it may, the real question is what will satiate the curiosity that a masked character inflicts? Why fear the things that go bump in the night, when the masked reality is much more petrifying?

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