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Becoming The Mask / Film

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People Becoming the Mask in movies.


General Examples

  • There are a number of stories in which the main characters pose as heroes, only to actually become real heroes by the end.
    • The main characters of ¡Three Amigos! are stars of many movies within a movie. A small Mexican village mistakes their movies for a truthful account of actual heroes, and hires them to save the town from bandits, while they mistake the offer for an offer to simply put on a show. Unfortunately, having lost their jobs, they have no place to go to after learning the truth, so they decide to save the village anyway, becoming the very movie characters they played.
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    • Galaxy Quest focuses on a group of actors from the long-cancelled sci-fi series Galaxy Quest, who are 'recruited' by an alien race who lac any concept of fiction and believe that the TV series was actually historical documents. Initially unaware of the stakes of the current situation and bitter about their past role in the series, as the storyline unfolds the actors fall back into their old roles and accept their responsibilities as heroes.
    • A Bug's Life: Flick the ant attempts to recruit heroes to protect his colony from the grasshoppers, but although he accidentally recruits a group of circus performers, they soon grow into their role as protectors of the ants.
    • My Name Is Bruce
    • Chicken Run: Rocky the rooster initially uses the chickens' assumption that he can fly to basically use them to put on a show for him, but over time he becomes genuinely attached to the hens, to the point that he feels guilty for tricking Ginger.
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Animated

  • Despicable Me has Gru pretending to be the three orphans' adoptive parent. However, he rescues the three kids from Vector and keeps that role.
  • Diego in Ice Age. He is supposed to get the baby and bring it to the Big Bad, but eventually becomes its protector.
  • The danger of the unicorn's human guise in The Last Unicorn. Amalthea, the eponymous unicorn, slowly forgets who she was, as she becomes more and more human. It takes the three other protagonists (including the human she fell in love with) to put her back on her quest.
  • In The LEGO Batman Movie, it's very clear that the protagonist thinks of himself as Batman more than Bruce Wayne. If anything, it feels like Wayne is the facade, with Batman even wearing his mask when he's alone in his manor.
  • Experiment 626/Stitch in Lilo & Stitch. He starts out masquerading as a dog for protection, but eventually Lilo's love causes him to do a Heel–Face Turn.
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  • In The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Kovu is sent to ingratiate himself into Simba's pride in order to kill him. Unfortunately for his mother, Kovu's growing love for Kiara allows him to break free of his mother's conditioning, realize the evil that he is collaborating in and decide he wants no part of it.
  • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted: The Zoosters masquerade as circus animals to hitch a ride on a circus train which is headed for New York which would allow them to finally return to the zoo. However, along the journey, they start to grow attached to the circus and make new friends with the circus animals. In the end, they realize they would much rather stay with the circus.
  • Megamind has this. He begins to like Roxanne while dating her as Bernard so much that he doesn't want to be a villain anymore. However, after Roxanne dumps him after finding out his identity, it's back to being a villain for him. However, when Roxanne tells him she needs him, while Titan has her tied up on top of a skyscraper, he flips to "hero" mode again and stays that way.
  • In Rock-A-Doodle, Pinkie (on the Grand Duke of Owl's orders) had Goldie keep Chantacler occupied to avoid encountering his friends. The only problem was that she was only supposed to pretend to fall in love with him, but she ended up falling in love with him for real, which lead her to side with Chantacler's friends and get him back to the farm.
  • In Treasure Planet, Silver ends up developing a bond with Jim Hawkins, despite him and his crew being the mole and simply being on the ship to steal the treasure. This serves as one of the primary conflicts of the story.

Live-Action

  • 21 Jump Street: Schmidt was a nerd when he was a high schooler and didn't have many friends. When he goes undercover at a high school with Jenko to bust a drug ring, they find that nowadays things like comic books and caring about the environment are considered cool. Thus, Schmidt easily makes friends and becomes one of the popular kids. This causes him to spend all of his time hanging out with the other students, instead of working to solve the case and find the drug dealer. Jenko calls him out on it after a chase to find the dealer goes wrong thanks to Schmidt caring more about the school play.
  • The first Addams Family movie has Gordon Craver, son of the film's antagonist, impersonating Uncle Fester to discover their fortune. He eventually starts settling in with the family and appreciating their strangeness. It turns out to be inverted, since Gordon actually is Fester with amnesia and was taken in by the antagonist.
  • Al di là della legge (Beyond the Law) is about a bandit, called Cudlip, who initially becomes the sheriff of a town for his ulterior purposes but gradually grows into the role, to the point where he and his new friend, a European immigrant called Novak, kill his two partners when they try to kill Novak in an attempt to steal the gold. The film ends with him holding and looking at his badge as Novak tells him he's earned it.
  • Invoked in Andhadhun—Akash pretends to be blind, and then Simi blinds him for real.
  • Alice in Antitrust was originally hired to be The Mole, but ends up falling for the protagonist and refuses to betray him.
  • The Assignment (1997): The protagonist, a naval officer with an uncanny resemblance to Carlos the Jackal, begins to take on the nature of the violent, charismatic terrorist after being trained to copy his methodology (as part of a plot to frame Carlos as a CIA informant so he'll be murdered by the KGB). The final scene shows him going to burn a spider with his cigarette as Carlos did in the opening scene, but he stops at the last second.
  • This is more or less the entire plot of James Cameron's Avatar. The main character, who is "piloting"/"possessing" an custom-made alien body for the purpose of infiltration, even remarks in the film at one point that the situation had become reversed - "out there was reality, and in here [in his human body] was the dream." At the end of the movie, he undergoes a ceremony that permanently puts him in the avatar body, and he leaves his old human body to die in the toxic atmosphere.
  • Back to the Future Part III: After accidentally being sent to 1885 towards the end of Part II, Doc tells Marty in his letter that he'd set himself up as a blacksmith as a cover while attempting to fix the time machine. But when he realized the damage was beyond the capacity of 1885 technology, he buried the time machine so that Marty could fix it with the help of his 1955 counterpart and go back to 1985 himself, and accepted his place as a blacksmith, content to stay in 1885.
  • Done to the letter in The Baker, a British comedy about an assassin with second thoughts about his profession who escapes to a tiny Welsh town and poses as the local baker to avoid attention. Turns out, he likes baking a lot more than he does killing, and a local girl captures his attention. Sure enough, he ends up as the town's baker, and gets the girl.
  • In Batman Begins, Rachel is the one to point out Bruce is the mask, and that the man who was once Bruce Wayne has become the Batman, wearing Bruce Wayne's face as an alter ego. Alfred warns Bruce of it earlier in the movie:
    Alfred: You're getting lost inside this monster of yours.
  • The whole point of the Charlie Sheen film Beyond the Law, which in turn is based on several real stories about law enforcement agents who pretend to be outlaw bikers to observe the clubs engaging in illegal activities only to realize they feel more at home as outlaws than as cops.
  • Big Daddy: Sonny Koufax adopts a five-year-old boy and lies about being the kid's biological father for the completely self-serving motive of gaining respect from certain people who have criticized him for not acting his age. But he gradually comes to really love the boy, even after one part of his grand plan fails.
  • One of the themes in Black Swan is the protagonist struggling to delve into her dark side in order to perfect her role as Odile of Swan Lake. This unfamiliar side of herself begins to devour her.
  • The Brothers Bloom. The older brother believes that "the perfect con" is one that actually becomes real. His younger brother inevitably falls in love with the heiress that he was supposed to seduce.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger:
    • Inverted with the red head Red Skull. His red head is actually his real face and his human one is actually a mask he wore that resembled his original look. It is implied that his red head is a result of using the Super Soldier serum which permanently turned his head red due to it being unstable at the time.
    • Invoked with Steve Rogers who was commercialized in films and theaters as the American USO Captain America and later became the real deal.
  • In Clown: Done to the extreme in this film, Kent McCoy, upon donning a Clown costume to stand in at his son's party, goes from a loving father to a child eating demon under the influence of the "costume" which turns out to be literal skin and hair from an Ancient European Demon.
  • One of the big themes of Clueless. While many of Cher's actions require the pretense of altruism, she does genuinely grow altruistic and is very humbled by the experience whether it be success or mishap.
  • Subverted in Cypher when Morgan Sullivan's spy alter ego that he created for himself is ignored when Digicorp transplant him into his new identity by way of brainwashing. The next plot segment is driven by his annoyance that his new persona doesn't smoke or drink whisky. Also inverted: The spy alter ego was his true personality re-asserting itself, Morgan Sullivan was the mask he was unbecoming.
  • Inverted in the first Darkman movie. When Darkman interacts with his girlfriend Julie after nearly having been burned to death, he makes good use of his artificial skin to pretend to be the same Payton Westlake he always was. However, at the end of the movie, when the Big Bad has been defeated and Julie finally sees Darkman's face as it truly is, she tries to reassure him by telling him that she can still love him despite his horrible injuries. Darkman replies that their former relationship could never go on because, while he was wearing the mask of the old Payton (among other masks), the man behind the mask had changed into an altogether different person.
  • A variant appears in Dave: an actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to the President of the United States is hired by advisors to stand-in at an official function while the real President is seducing his secretary. Unfortunately, the President suffers a stroke during the act and is rendered non-responsive, forcing the actor to remain in the role indefinitely; he ends up becoming a more noble and honest President than the actual one, and falls in love with the First Lady.
  • Deep Cover: Russell is chosen to become an undercover narcotics officer because his personality is so similar to that of a typical criminal. As he discovers, he's actually pretty good at being a drug dealer. Eventually he's forced to sell crack cocaine for real because his handler doesn't have enough money in the budget to pay for all the stuff he brings in. Ultimately subverted in that he never completely loses sight that he's still a cop and helps to dismantle a major supplier.
  • Heavily discussed in The Departed by Costigan, where he worries that the horrible things he has to do while undercover are actually making him more of a horrible person, which culminates in him being unable to trust the police department at all; he asks to resign rather than be reinstated after Costello's death ends his mission, and upon realizing that Sullivan is a mole he immediately goes rogue to try to deal with him rather than even considering reporting him to anyone else in the department.
  • Pretty much the point of Donnie Brasco, where Johnny Depp's character, an undercover cop, develops a friendship with his primary mob contact and feels guilty about betraying him.
  • Ronald Colman won his only Academy Award for doing this in A Double Life. He plays a Shakespearean stage star who is something of a method actor, immersing in and "becoming" each role. Already having (actual, but unfounded) concerns about his wife's fidelity, he then gets cast as Othello...
  • Barbara "Down with Love" Novak is a best selling author who tells women that they don't need a man to be satisfied as women. It turns out there is no Barbra Novak and her real name is Nancy Brown. She has been pretending to be Barbara Novak to get Catcher Block to fall in love with her but what she didn't count on was by pretending to be Barbara Novak... she would actually "become" Barbara Novak.
  • The East: Sarah, a corporate intelligence agent, infiltrates a bunch of eco-terrorists. Her boss tells her that a certain amount of this trope is to be expected in any long-term undercover assignment, but she goes just about all the way in.
  • The Fast and the Furious series has Paul Walker's cop become a street-racing rogue like the people he infiltrates. It's basically Point Break (1991) with cars instead of surfboards.
  • The original Fright Night (1985) features washed-up horror actor Peter Vincent becoming a real vampire-hunter, and gradually growing into the role.
  • The Front: Howard Prince, a cashier decided to pose as a writer that blacklisted artists could submit their work to. While he doesn't become a genuine writer, he arguably becomes more sympathetic with their politics, and refuses to cooperate with an investigation by HUAC.
  • The Chevy Chase comedy Funny Farm has his character Andy and his wife Elizabeth moving to a small town in the country, but the odd behavior of everyone there and some personal troubles between the two lead to them to having a falling out, wanting to divorce, and hoping to both move away as soon as possible. They work together with all the inhabitants to lure in another couple into buying their house under the prospect that town is the perfect place to live in and that they are Happily Married. As they maintain the charade though Andy and Elizabeth realize that in spite of everything that's happened they still love each other and actually do love living in the town.
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is a Romantic Comedy about two people trying to manipulate each other for their respective jobs only to end up falling in love.
  • The main source of drama in Infernal Affairs, the Cantonese film The Departed is based on, was the psychological impact of the main characters' double lives as Andy Lau's character wishes to become his mask while Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's character fears he is becoming his. He eventually goes so far as to kill everybody who knew his real identity and could incriminate him, with the exception of his wife.
  • This was the plot of the James Bond movie From Russia with Love; the Bond Girl was sent by SPECTRE (under the guise of SMERSH) to seduce him into a trap. She pretends to be a Russian cypher clerk who's fallen in love with Bond's picture, only to fall for him for real.
  • Just Go With It is a Romantic Comedy where two people that have to pretend to be a couple actually fall in love with each other.
  • The plot of Kagemusha by Akira Kurosawa. A lower-class criminal is taught to impersonate a dying warlord as a kagemusha (shadow warrior) in order to dissuade opposing lords from attacking the newly vulnerable clan. He becomes more and more convincing after the death of the warlord, but he is revealed as in impostor after he is rejected by the horse of the warrior. However he chooses a death on battle, in a desperate search for identity.
  • In Kindergarten Cop, Detective John Kimble is forced to go undercover as a Kindergarten Teacher when his partner (who was originally supposed to be the teacher) gets the flu. He turns out to be a great teacher and he really begins to enjoy his job. In the end, he retires from the force to stay on as the teacher.
  • This is what the documentary Kumare is all about. Vikram Gandhi (no relation), raised in New Jersey in a family faithfully devoted to Hinduism, became a "guru" himself, for a film about why people believe in them. He explains his rationale here. With two assistants as "devotees", he even created a false website for publicity. Then he just started appearing around Phoenix and Tucson, giving guest lessons in yoga studios. Sure enough, people flocked to hear him, many saying they really got something out of his teachings, especially about becoming "your ideal self" and that we are all our own gurus with the ability to transform our lives. He dropped hints all along that he was a fake. Months into this journey, Vikram realized that he actually had transcended, in a way — he was Kumare — his own ideal self. By living a lie, he had made it true — and the students really had changed their lives for the better. Most of his students stuck with him. There are still people who understand what he did and believe in Kumare's teachings.
  • A classic movie example is Humphrey Bogart's character in The Left Hand of God. He plays a mercenary in China who uses the identity of a dead priest to escape his warlord employer but that means actually acting the part of a priest at a medical mission. Luckily he's a Catholic boy so he knows the drill. He also does his best to live up to the part with predictable results.
  • In Legend of the Black Scorpion, Wu Luan and Wan have a discussion about the power of masks in theater and whether or not wearing one brings about a greater performance. This as Wan is slowly becoming one with her queenly mask.
  • The father of the title Lord of War was a Ukrainian who, along with his family, emigrated from the Soviet Union to America under the pretense of being Jewish. He would later on fully embrace the Jewish lifestyle, opening a store with the Star of David as part of the logo, faithfully attending synagogue services, and even obeying orthodox Jewish dietary laws, much to the annoyance of his Catholic wife.
    Anatoly Orlov: I'm going to temple.
    Irina Orlov: You're not going to temple! You go to temple more than the Rabbi!
  • In Maleficent, the titular character watches over the young Aurora to keep her alive until her Dangerous 16th Birthday but ends up becoming a foster mother to her.
  • The Man Who Killed Don Quixote: Unbeknownst to Toby, the old cobbler he cast for his student film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote started to believe that he really is Don Quixote. After returning to Spain years later, he bumps into Javier still under this belief.
  • Occurs for the worse in Mean Girls: Naïve Newcomer Cady joins the popular girls' clique only because her friends want her to get inside information on Queen Bee Regina so that they can knock her several pegs down the social ladder. Cady succeeds in doing this, but her experience as one of the "Plastics" causes her to become as shallow and popularity-obsessed as them, and she takes over Regina's former position. Fortunately, when she realizes what she's become (and has a Fallen Princess experience), she snaps out of it and makes amends.
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and The Remake feature a reporter who stages a Rescue Romance with the main character to advance her journalist career and then falls in love with him.
  • Kichi's mother begins to worry that this has literally happened to her after she dons a demonic mask in an attempt to scare her daughter straight in Onibaba.
  • Opportunity Knocks is conning a businessman into believing that he's the friend of the man's relative and seducing his daughter to get access to his money, but he falls in love with her for real.
  • In Plan B, Bruno attempts to seduce his ex Laura's boyfriend Pablo as part of a convoluted plan to win Laura back, only to end up developing genuine romantic feelings for Pablo.
  • In Plunkett & Macleane, Macleane infiltrates the rich upper classes so he can rob them blind with his fellow highwayman. However he begins growing too fond of acting like he's rich and squandering money on his gambling habits.
  • Point Break (1991) stars Keanu Reeves as an FBI agent who goes undercover as a surfer to get close to a suspected bank robber. The inevitable occurs.
  • Pretty much the entire plot of the Kevin Costner film The Postman. In a post-apocalyptic America where civilization has collapsed, Costner plays a wandering con man who poses as a postal worker of the fictional 'Restored United States of America' to deceive people into giving him food, shelter, and protection. In the process, he proceeds from pretending to deliver the mail to actually delivering the mail, and things sort of snowball from there until he eventually, entirely by accident, ends up basically creating the Restored United States of America he claimed to represent and becoming a postal worker for it.
  • Played straight in the second The Princess Diaries film. Nicholas is sent by his Evil Uncle to seduce Mia in order to become king, but he actually falls in love with her.
  • Zig Zagging around this trope is one of the main selling points of Salt: Is she primarily a CIA operative trying to clear her name or a Soviet superspy? The theatrical version plays this straight; She did fall in love and went native. The Director's Cut goes the opposite way but manages to sneak in a twist: She's loyal to current Russia, not Orlov.
  • This is the plot of Sister Act when Whoopi Goldberg's character becomes a nun. Whoopi comes to like the nuns and their work to help people in need, but she also convinces them to serve the Lord with more joy and less woe, singing passionately.
  • Smokin' Aces features an interesting inversion of this: after FBI Agent Freeman Heller goes undercover as Mafia Hitman Primo Sparazza, the higher-ups at the FBI became wrongfully convinced that he had become the mask, and tried to have him murdered. Heller survived the assassination, and to retaliate against the Bureau that betrayed him, really did become the mask, eventually becoming the head Mafia Don.
  • Sound of My Voice: Two documentarians infiltrate a cult to expose it, but one of them starts to get swept under the charismatic leader's spell.
  • Star Wars: When Luke Skywalker surrenders to the Imperials in Return of the Jedi, he tells Darth Vader he has accepted that he was once Anakin Skywalker, his father. Vader replies, "That name no longer has any meaning for me." Luke insists there is still good in him.
  • At the end of Super Troopers Ursula admits that she initially was pretending to be attracted to Foster so she can use him to quietly expose the rest of the corrupt police officers she works with, but actually falls for him in the process.
  • Total Recall (1990) Does this quite literally (or does it?) - Our protagonist Doug Quaid is told that his true identity is actually Hauser, Cohaagen's evil sidekick: but Quaid has other ideas. As Cohaagen puts it: "I didn't want it to end this way, I wanted Hauser back, but no... you had to be Quaid!"
  • In Trading Places, Ophelia was hired by Clarence Beeks to pretend to be Louis Winthorpe's lover in front of Louis' fiancée as part of a secret plot to ruin his life, only agreeing because Beeks paid her to. However, she pities Louis, so she starts taking care of him, and eventually, she truly becomes his Love Interest.
  • Training Day: One Epileptic Tree claims that Alonzo is so dangerous precisely because being "The Wolf" does not come naturally to him - his bad guy persona is taken to the max precisely because he has to construct it.
  • In Troop Beverly Hills we get Annie, who was sent to the title troop by Velma to discredit their leader and get the troop disbanded. Eventually she grows a spine and gives up on the pursuit. Of course, Velma catches on to this and tries to fire her before the climactic final competition.
  • Tropic Thunder: This is the main character problem affecting Robert Downey Jr.'s character. Specifically, he's supposed to be an Affectionate Parody of Daniel Day-Lewis, with the man becoming so caught up in his method acting that he won't break character throughout the production process.
    Tugg: Why are you still in character?
    Kirk: Man, I don't break character until I've done the DVD commentary.
  • Undercover Brother has Brother become Anton Jackson to infiltrate The Man's company. He becomes the mask due to mayonnaise and the White She-Devil. When he returns to normal, the White She-Devil goes through a similar transformation and does a Heel–Face Turn.
  • At the end of Unknown, it is revealed that Martin Harris doesn't really exist, and that "he" was merely a cover story manufactured by a shadowy assassination organization. However, Martin began to believe that he was the identity of his cover story after suffering head trauma during a car crash.
  • In The Unknown, Alonzo the Armless really becomes armless. He decides to go with it when Cojo laughingly remarks that he forgot he has hands when he lights a cigarette with his feet.
  • The Verdict: It's revealed toward the end of the film that Galvin's girlfriend Laura is spying on him for Galvin's courtroom opponent, but she has come to love him anyway.
  • In the film version of V for Vendetta, Gordon Dietrich reveals to Evey that he not only keeps a ton of contraband art, religious items, and other memorabilia in a secret room, he also has a predilection for certain government-unfriendly sexual appetites. Or rather, he had these appetites before years of having to pretend he didn't...
    Gordon: "You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it."
  • The main point of Wedding Crashers; this one using the "fall in love" variety with both protagonists. Things go south when they're discovered, but they manage to work out a happy ending.
  • In We're the Millers the band of misfits who came together just to facilitate a drug smuggling scheme actually starts turning into a genuine family.
  • In While You Were Sleeping, Lucy saves the life of the man she has a crush on and, due to a mistake at the hospital is assumed by the staff — and the man's family — to be his fiancée, whom they haven't met. A variation, however, in that Lucy isn't a villain with malicious intent; she's initially mortified by the error and tries to clear it up right away, but finds the man's warm, welcoming and immediately accepting family, in contrast to her own painfully lonely life and lack of family, a bit too hard to give up. Then she falls in love with his brother — right before the man comes out of his coma and, due to what-he-thinks-is-amnesia, is convinced that she is his fiancée...
  • In White: The Melody of the Curse, once the other three members of Pink Dolls are incapacitated due to a healthy dose of Cursed Technology, Eun-jun realizes she has the chance to go solo after she believes she broke the curse. She only answers to the name of "White", rather than Eun-jun, denies ever being a back-up dancer, and claims she wrote the song itself. She didn't break the curse. At all.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, according to a comic book sequel, this is the origin of Judge Doom, who was originally a Toon specializing in villain parts and changing his appearance for every short, akin to a Toon Lon Chaney. After a grenade accident, the actor part of the "Actor playing a villain" slowly vanished and he never appeared out of costume/make-up, to the point that no one in Hollywood could remember what he looked like.
  • In The Whole Nine Yards.
    • Jill, secretly an assassin. She is hired by Oz's wife to kill him, so she started working as his assistant, to get closer to him. She ended up liking Oz so much she couldn't go through with it.
    • Jimmy reveals this happened to him. He got close to one guy, who had a cute but quirky attitude. Eventually, Jimmy revealed his job and to run. He couldn't go through with the hit. He walked away from the mark... and was shot in the back by the mark. Jimmy no longer liked him as much. The mark took a long time to die.
  • In The Wild Hunt, Murtagh and his fellow Celts start playing their LARP characters for real, with bloody consequences.
  • Kayla Silverfox in X-Men Origins: Wolverine is blackmailed by Stryker into posing as Wolverine's lover. However, near the end, the mask has become real.
  • A variation occurs in the Woody Allen movie Zelig: the protagonist becomes the mask involuntarily, taking on the traits of whoever is around him, be they Nazis, pilots, or Greeks.


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