Mask of Sanity
Robert: Take it from me: A very good sign that you're crazy is an inability to ask the question, "Am I crazy?"Some people laugh as a sign of mental instability. Others speak in a Creepy Monotone or openly show signs of being violent. Then there's the character who's Revealed to be insane and shows almost no signs of being crazy until that point... at least not publicly. A character that feigns sanity, quite simply is the kind of person that can maintain their facade in most social situations but is completely insane on the inside. So naturally when the audience figures this out it can sometimes be a major Plot Twist. Other times the character's craziness could be apparent to the audience from the start, and not the other characters. Either way beware of spoilers. The Trope Namer comes from a book called The Mask Of Sanity, which describes how people that aren't stable can blend in with society. Yandere and Cute and Psycho are subtropes, when people may act perfectly normal until that certain trigger is pressed, then they quickly turn into murderous psychopaths. Taking off the mask can be seen as a Villainous Breakdown. Compare and contrast with Stepford Smiler type C. Often overlaps with Reluctant Psycho. Contrast with Obfuscating Insanity. See also Beneath the Mask and Hyde Plays Jekyll.
Catherine: Even if the answer is "yes"?
Robert: Crazy people don't ask, you see?
Catherine: Even if the answer is "yes"?
Robert: Crazy people don't ask, you see?
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Solf J. Kimblee of Fullmetal Alchemist maintains his polite and empathic facade despite being a sociopath that is heavily implied to have pretended to be sane in order to join the military.
- Death Note
- Light Yagami goes insane by the second episode yet still manages to blend in with society. By the end of the series, he's defeated and everyone figures out just how crazy he was.
- Mikami also counts. There are quite a few scenes in which you see him completely calm, and controlled....until you see just how crazy he is in the warehouse scene.
- Yuno from Future Diary only appears to be an innocent girl, but reveals that she's an Axe Crazy sociopath early in the series.
- Ryouko Asakura from Haruhi Suzumiya seems like a calm, kind student, but follows a brand of Blue and Orange Morality that from a human perspective is utterly insane.
- Attack on Titan has Reiner Braun. Considered by the others to be stable and reliable, he's actually the least mentally stable of The Moles.
- Mami Tomoe from Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a tragic example. Her selfish wish to save her own life, but forgetting her parents made her incredibly guilty. As an atoner she decided to fight the witches and clear off her sin by saving as many lives as possible. Of course, as a teenager who risks her life everyday, she's often afraid, depressed and lonely but has created the image of a flawless, elegant and matured Cool Big Sis. She eventually becomes The Mentor and Cool Big Sis to the other Magical Girls. However, in the third known timeline, when she found out the truth of Magical Girls eventually turning into witches like Sayaka had done before, she went completely berserk, Mercy Killing the other girls with the intent to commit suicide. She succeeds with Kyoko, but Homura is saved by Madoka killing Mami. After this event, Homura discovered that Mami's mental stability is probably the worst, and from then on dissociates herself from her.
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has Rau le Creuset, who throughout the series seems to be a calm, efficient Reasonable Authority Figure who just happens to be working for the bad guys. This made the revelation of how seriously twisted he really is all the more shocking when he started ranting and raving in front of Kira and Mu. And then he goes right back to being calm and collected in public after said confrontation. Bonus points for actually wearing a mask all the time, and it only comes off when he's at the height of his crazy episode.
- Gendo Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion is ostensibly the leader of the heroic organization fighting to prevent the end of the world. The truth of the matter is far more complicated as he's plotting to cause it instead in a mad quest to be reunited with his long-dead wife.
- While Darkseid is well-known as one of the most cunning and stoic villains in The DCU, he really is just as Ax-Crazy as all of his minions. He just manages to hide it all due to extreme self-control.
- Anyone who takes the Goblin formula is driven completely insane, but they can still act perfectly sane when they need to.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Acts III and IV have a perfect example in Hokuto Kaneshiro. While he constantly acts polite and sane, and even manages to win the trust of Tsukune's group, it's revealed that he himself personally arranged for Kuyou to attack the academy so he could steal an Artifact of Doom while the gang was distracted fighting him, needing said artifact to revive Alucard and destroy the world out of the nihilistic view that all live is evil and meaningless. Also, when his Co-Dragons, Jovian and Jacqueline Kikion, are resummoned in Act VI, they state that their morality is shaped by their master; when one considers that Jovian and Jacqueline were Ax-Crazy Psychopathic Manchildren who committed such atrocities as rape, Cold-Blooded Torture, and wanton mass murder and destruction as a matter of course, it's even more proof of just how off his rocker Hokuto really was.
- As The Rise Of Darth Vulcan goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the titular Villain Protagonist is wearing one. Ted/Darth Vulcan spent years suppressing his true nature under a Jerkass Façade in order to avoid bullying, to the point that even he forgot what he was really like, leaving him deeply disturbed. This is why he's at first seemingly immune to the Sanity Slippage-inducing effects of the Alicorn Amulet — it can't drive him insane, because he was never sane to begin with.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Throughout the film Judge Doom appears somewhat malevolent but not blatantly so. Near the end he's revealed to be a Toon who's even more crazy than most Toons.
- Battle Royale: Kiriyama sits quietly in the background, but starts killing students once the game starts because he signed up for The Program.
- Subverted in Battle Royale Kiriyama, who was always The Quiet One, kills students mercilessly, but it turns out he's not crazy, he just has brain damage.
- Parodied in American Psycho. Patrick Bateman is an Ax-Crazy Serial Killer working on Wall Street. He constantly tries to confess the murders he has committed but no one takes him seriously. Finally he flips out completely and does everything in his power to get caught... and still no one cares.
- The murderer of And Then There Were None is a calm rational person in public, but an Ax-Crazy Large Ham once he arrives to kill the last victim.
- This is one interpretation of the title character's actions in Hamlet.
- In Breakfast of Champions, after Dwayne Hoover goes on his rampage, people say afterwards they should have seen the danger signals in his behavior, but the narrator then points out that this "cry for help" was only obvious in retrospect: Dwayne's behavior prior to meeting Kilgore Trout had been within the bounds of normally acceptable behavior, and his closest companion and mistress at the time, Francine Pefko, had thought that he had been getting happier.
- Roose Bolton from A Song of Ice and Fire first appears to be merely cold and ruthless. However, he is actually almost as insane as his torture-loving bastard son, Ramsay.
Live Action Television
- Kamen Rider Wizard: While it's no surprise that all of the phantoms are insane, special props goes to Sora/Gremlin. Before the Reveal we see that he is a giggling little troll. He's obviously dangerous and even man handles Wizad and Beast a couple times, but that was barely the surface. He then reveals that he is the only phantom to retain his human persona, that's when the real reveal begins. The people who knew him before the Sabath said he was a nice, if eccentric, guy. Turns out he's a serial killer who continues this as a hobby!!!!
- Post-snap Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine manages to hold it together fairly well for about half of "Waltz", only reacting to the hallucinations when he's safely away from Sisko. This does not last.
- Arrow: Slade Wilson spends most of his post-Face-Heel Turn appearances in Season 2 as a seemingly coldly detached and stoic Magnificent Bastard, who keeps his calm even when fighting Oliver. However, near the end of the season, the mask comes off, and he reveals how deranged the Mirakuru has left him, in all his ranting, hallucinating glory.
- Call of Cthulhu. Cthulhu Mythos cultists with a Sanity of zero usually act in a completely insane or otherwise irrational manner. However, powerful cultists (such as the leaders) are usually able to act in a sane manner when dealing with sane (normal) people in order to conceal their true nature.
- The related game, Trail of Cthulhu explains this by separating Stability from Sanity. People with little Stability are prone of panicking and fainting and such, but may still retain a good grip of their Sanity. People with high Stability and low Sanity, on the other hand, embody this trope.
- The Butcher from Evil Genius qualifies- a cannibalistic, cleaver-wielding psychotic ex-medical student turned henchman can temporarily fool Investigators with his first skill called 'Facade of Normality', which renders him less suspicious and even able to pass for a sane person, as opposed to instantly alerting them due to his violent insanity.
- Hazama of BlazBlue is an odd example, considering how often he laughs maniacally you'd be surprised how calm and stable he can appear.
- A Malkavian (the incurably-mad vampire type) character in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines ingeniously hides their split personality by pretending to be twins, namely, Theresa and Jeanette Voermann.
- Zant from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. He seems like a calm, cold, mildly angry villain throughout the whole game. But before you fight him he takes off his mask as well as his controlled demeanor. Cue an enraged verbal exchange with Midna, and one of the most spastically moving and sounding bosses in the franchise.
- Throughout Luigi's Mansion, King Boo was calm, collected, and in complete control. After, however, he was overtaken by sheer insanity and, while he was outwardly almost the same throughout the sequel, you could tell that behind his face was a sociopath out for revenge, no matter the cost.
- In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, in the Law Path, after Zelenin has brainwashed all Red Sprite personnel, Dent assumes the role of the Only Sane Man and keeps issuing EX Missions. Finish all missions, and Dent sighs contently - everyone is happy - happier? He then proceeds to rip off his Mask of Sanity and stomp on it by groveling and addressing you as "Master".
- Dr. Eggman Nega of the Sonic the Hedgehog series comes off as a calm, well-mannered, gentlemanly individual, but when push comes to shove proves to be a complete psychopath who delights in destruction and the suffering of others.
- This happens quite often in the Ace Attorney series. Most of the culprits will start off faking innocence or serenity, only to have an inevitable breakdown after the player pokes enough holes in their testimony.
- In Justice For All, Matt Engarde is able to fake being stable enough to be a famous actor and trick Phoenix into thinking he's an innocent, lovable ditz. It turns out that he really lacks any empathy, being perfectly fine with hiring an assassin to kill his rival actor and letting said assassin blackmail Phoenix into defending him via kidnapping Maya. He also seems to completely believe he's innocent, since he hired an assasin and didn't commit the murder himself.
- In Trials and Tribulations, Dahlia Hawthorne is heavily implied to be a sociopath, stating that she has never done a single thing for the benefit of anyone besides herself. She's easily able to pass herself off as a vulnerable victim in need of protection and even is able to disguise herself for some time as her much-saner twin sister.
- In Dual Destinies, the phantom is an utterly remorseless killer who claims to have trained himself not to feel emotion at all. He seems eerily detached from the many killings he does. He is also able to fake having emotions perfectly as it's revealed when Phoenix discovers that he'd been perfectly masquerading as the incredibly emotional Detective Bobby Fulbright.
- Nagito Komaeda from Super Dangan Ronpa 2 appears to be sane, until halfway through the first trial, where it's revealed that he's completely insane about hope, going so far as to attempt to murder somebody to preserve it.
- Snadhya'rune, the effective Big Bad of Drowtales, masterfully demonstrates this trope over the course of chapter 46 when her previous behavior where she presents herself as an enlightened peacemaker and the best hope for her kind's future shatters when her plans start going awry, culminating in a scene where after she's surprised by a literal stab in the back she screams in utter fury and starts tearing the place down, not caring who she takes out in the process. You pretty much see the mask start to fall away and then crack completely in the course of three panels, and then several pages later she attempts to put it back on with limited success.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): Slash appears to be a smart, loyal, hardworking ninja who understands Raphael's position and his problems with his brothers. But underneath, his mind is too twisted to understand things like how no matter how frustrating families can be, that doesn't mean things would be better if they weren't around, that there are more important things in life than being strong, or that caring for others isn't a weakness.
- In Wakfu, Qilby the Traitor's mask is so good that he spends most of season 2 as a Hidden Villain. In episode 20 "The Zinit", he finally ditches the mask and reveals his true self: an Ax-Crazy nihilistic Omnicidal Maniac who is even less mature than Yugo despite being far older.
- The psychology text The Mask of Sanity offers several insights on this point. Genuine psychopaths aren't like the Hollywood trope of a psychopath. Rather, they seem utterly incapable of empathizing with other human beings. Subsequent psychology research on imprisoned psychopaths with neuroelectric instruments has actually measured that the their brains seem structurally deficient in the areas responsible for emotion. In normal people, when shown violent or offensive words such as "murder", "rape", etc., neural activity spikes in the parts of the brain responsible for emotion, i.e. the amygdala. In psychopaths, there is no similar activity spike: their amygdalas seem stunted and dead. The great unanswered question is the Nature vs Nurture debatre: whether they were born with non-functioning amygdalas, or if years of systemic childhood abuse stunted their mental development. The end result is that psychopaths have all of their higher brain functions intact such as speech, reading, and higher logic - but human emotions are an alien sensation to them. They have the raw intellect of an adult, but their level of emotional understanding and empathy for others is below that of a selfish toddler, who does not yet understand that other peoples' lives don't revolve around them. The argument made in The Mask of Sanity is that because psychopaths still have their raw intelligence, can through careful analysis over the course of their lives gradually learn to very accurately mimic the normal emotional responses that other people expect of them: if they cut ahead of someone in line they understand that they're supposed to say the words "I'm sorry", but the words have no meaning to them. They learned it as a rote response - but as the book points out, mimicry - no matter how careful - is still not comprehension. So sort of like a human Chat Bot, psychopaths have learned a lot of stock phrases for "small talk", but it's just by rote: chit-chat about the weather, complimenting someone on losing weight, etc. This can also make them come off as very obsequious, when they're trying too hard to convincingly act like a caring, normal person. The book advises that to discover a psychopath all you really need to do is engage them beyond surface-level conversation for any length of time, i.e ten minutes of talking about "what are your views on violent crime?" and they'll eventually say something bizarre, revealing that they're just attempting to appear normal as best they can grasp it. It's very much like the Voight-Kampf test from Blade Runner: ask them emotionally provocative questions, and they won't know how to properly respond as a normal person would.
- For example, consider the recent case of infamous convicted child-molester Jerry Sandusky. When asked short yes or no questions he could keep up the act, such as "did you molest boys when you were a coach?" ("No") - but any interview of length that he gave, he would start rambling off on bizarre and incriminating tangents. Particularly the bizarre telephone interview on live TV when asked the more involved question, "are you sexually attracted to young boys?", instead of immediately and flatly saying "no", he started pondering the question aloud because he wasn't sure how a "normal" person would response to such a question, leaving the interviewer to roll his eyes at his absurdity.
- Serial killer John Wayne Gacy is often pointed to as a prime example of a psychopath who was able to put on the facade of a seemingly "normal" domestic life, but it was all just an act. He seemed to have a normal house in the suburbs (despite his rocky marriages) but he was storing dozens of bodies of men he had killed in his crawlspace.
- "High functioning" when used in the context of mental illness and in particular sociopathy refers to someone who's able to do this, and consequently they're generally harder to spot and get away with their crimes for longer.