“What’s that on your face ?” the leading man of Wind River asks his griefstricken First Nations friend. “It’s my death mask”. “Looks odd.” “I know, I made it up. There’s nobody to teach me how to do it.” Wild River is like that, bits are very good and bits are baloney. Worth it for splendour of the land, one golden eagle and two mountain lions. Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut: must try harder.
A face like a mask isn’t a compliment. Masks have all sorts of ceremonial and other uses, varying from a strip of silk across the eyes to a whole other head, but often, a mask is a protection, a kind of rigidity hoped to define you or defend you against something dangerous. The fox’s face is a mask. And once, long ago, I met a girl who made up like a mask. There was a story, of course there was a story, there’s always a story. Hers involved Ireland at the height of the mainland bombings. The brogue wrapped her voice like a bandage and she was deeply removed from us all – she came as a temp and stayed. You could not see her face. She did her job and went otherwise unnoticed. Until the day my half drunken deputy editor insulted her. She responded viscerally, so that Madam the bottle shut up and we dispersed to our own corners. A little later I took her a cup of tea and she was still shaking. She had been duped into being a mule or a safe house or something equally convoluted and painful. We exchanged cards for years. I’ve never forgotten the paint. I wondered if the need for it predated the admitted horror.
And it is revealing that the present clothes and makeup offered to us as the last word in up-to-date, smack of costume and mask. We have much to try and keep at bay, much to be afraid of – though looking at the occasional colour spread, I find myself laughing : it really is “repel all boarders” !
So when you see a real face, you want to cheer. If I say I saw a truly beautiful young man on the bus, I don’t mean I lusted for his body. (More rust than lust now, another elderly rakish friend and I have founded The Prim Club: what we did we did, we loved it but we are not chasing shadows : my mother always said “Nothing as straightlaced as an old rake “!) This tall slender thing
got on the bus with his wheelie bag and another full of papers, talking animatedly into a mobile and sat down beside me. I waved my right hand, indicating “Tone it down !” and he did. When he folded up the phone, I asked “What language were you speaking ?” “Dutch” he said smiling. “My mother said good morning !” I couldn’t not smile back. “And did she tell you not to make such a noise ?” I said flicking his knee with a finger. “Have a good day,” he said beaming. “And you take care too” I answered. No masks anywhere in sight. As fine as a flower, bless him, long may he bloom.
Sometimes the mask is so much part of a person, you don’t look beyond. So a second real awakening came in the form of a neighbour I don’t know well, who suddenly emailed and told me that, unable to sell her house, she had let it (within 48 hours) and she was now clearing and storing – would I come over and look at books ? And I thought I must go, if only to be polite, though without much hope. There were half a dozen books, one thrilling and I thought I could slide out but she sat me down. Oh hell, coffee when I only like my own – but it was fine. And she unloaded the freezer, gave me all sorts of bits for the kitchen, a jacket and then took me out to the garden. I came home with six plants ! And when I emailed 24 hours later and thanked her all over again, she electrified me by saying she hoped to invite me to stay, I had really helped her.