Saturday, 7 June 2008

Masks: thoughts flowing from Celtic Imagination No 4

I greatly admire the films of Canadian director David Cronenberg. With searing honesty he explores the human psyche in a manner which almost always means that masks are peeled away and the messily conflicted nature of what it is to be human is revealed. His partnership with actor Viggo Mortensen has produced two of the outstanding films of recent times; A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. In both of these films Mortensen's work is of the very highest calibre. In A History of Violence he gives a virtuoso performance of great depth and subtlety as a man whose mask is threatened by circumstances beyond his control. Outwardly his character, Tom Stall, is a picture of contentment; he has a loving family and is at the heart of his small-town community. But his personal idyll is not all that it seems, as beneath this mask of outward appearances there is a deeper truth to Tom. The narrative in 'A History of Violence' develops around the revealing of this truth when the mask is torn away and another facet of Tom's being comes to the surface. At the end of the story we are left looking at Tom who seems finally to have no masks left. His soul is bared and vulnerable. The screencaptures show this process as it unfolds and hint at the superb quality of Viggo's achievement in this role.

As I reflect on this I am drawn ever more deeply to a verse in St.John's gospel which seems to me to speak right into the heart of the matter of the masks we wear:  Jesus says "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (8:32) This is not a glib promise. Nor is what he offers comfortable. Far from it. The final picture of Viggo in the sequence opposite pretty much evokes what the process of coming to know one's deepest truth can feel like. But it is there, right at that point of vulnerable anguish freed of our masks that some other words of Jesus can birth new life:  "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10). With this in mind I offer you the words of a poem which I first came across in my work as a prison chaplain.

Please Hear What I'm Not Saying
"Don't be fooled by me. Don't be fooled by the face I wear for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I'm afraid to take off and none of them is me. Pretending is an art that's second nature with me, but don't be fooled,for God's sake don't be fooled. I give you the impression that I'm secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game, that the water's calm and I'm in command and that I need no one, but don't believe me. My surface may be smooth but my surface is my mask, ever-varying and ever-concealing. Beneath lies no complacence. Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness. But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed. That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant sophisticated facade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows. But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope, and I know it.That is, if it is followed by acceptance, If it is followed by love. It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself from my own self-built prison walls from the barriers that I so painstakingly erect. It's the only thing that will assure me of what I can't assure myself, that I'm really worth something. But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to. I'm afraid to. I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me. I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing and that you will see this and reject me. So I play my game, my desperate, pretending game with a façade of assurance without and a trembling child within. So begins the glittering but empty parade of Masks, and my life becomes a front. I tell you everything that's really nothing, and nothing of what's everything, of what's crying within me. So when I'm going through my routine do not be fooled by what I'm saying. Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying, what I'd like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I can't say. I don't like hiding. I don't like playing superficial phony games. I want to stop playing them.I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me but you've got to help me. You've got to hold out your hand even when that's the last thing I seem to want. Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of the breathing dead. Only you can call me into aliveness. Each time you're kind, and gentle, and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings -- very small wings, but wings! With your power to touch me into feeling you can breathe life into me. I want you to know that. I want you to know how important you are to me, how you can be a creator--an honest-to-God creator -- of the person that is me if you choose to. You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble, you alone can remove my mask, you alone can release me from the shadow-world of panic, from my lonely prison, if you choose to. Please choose to. Do not pass me by. It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls. The nearer you approach me the blinder I may strike back. It's irrational, but despite what the books may say about man often I am irrational. I fight against the very thing I cry out for. But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls and in this lies my hope. Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands but with gentle hands for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?  I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet and I am every woman you meet

By Charles C. Finn

1 comment:

  1. My first visit to this blog.
    I'm very impressed. Love the images.

    The globes of destiny hang proud!