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Film / The Man in the Iron Mask

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"Some of this is legend, but at least this much is fact; when rioting citizens of France destroyed the Bastille, they discovered within its records this mysterious entry: Prisoner # 64389000 - The Man in the Iron Mask."

The Man in the Iron Mask is a 1998 film adaptation of The Vicomte de Bragelonne (1847-1850) by Alexandre Dumas. The original serial novel was a sequel to The Three Musketeers. One of many adaptations, the film was the first directed by Randall Wallace, previously known for writing Braveheart. The main stars were Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Gérard Depardieu, and Anne Parillaud.

The year is 1662. Gone are Cardinal Richelieu (died 1642) and Louis XIII of France (died 1643). France is ruled by Louis XIV (DiCaprio), son of his predecessor. He is a militarist who is already bankrupting the country with unpopular wars, which are condemned by dissidents called Jesuits. Privately, Louis follows a hedonistic lifestyle and keeps many mistresses. Meanwhile, the peasants of Paris are starving and a food riot begins. Louis XIV commands one of his advisors to send rotten food to the rioters. The riot stops temporarily, the people get sick, and the advisor is executed for "his" crime.


So, what has happened to the Musketeers? Aramis (Irons), Athos (Malkovich), and Porthos (Depardieu) have retired from service. Aramis is now a priest. Porthos spends much of his free time frequenting brothels he owns, though his impotence causes him great suffering. Athos married and had a son that he raised as a single father following the death of his wife. His beloved son Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard) currently serves in the French Army. Only D'Artagnan (Byrne) is still in the service of the King. Enraged by receiving rotten food, starving people march to the gates of Louis's palace, and the guards prepare to fire. D'Artagnan prevents a massacre from occurring, winning over the crowd with his popularity and promise to speak with Louis over the matter. He also thwarts an assassination attempt on Louis by a man who exhorts "feed your people." However, things change abruptly. Raoul is about to marry Christine (Judith Godreche), a woman who Louis wants to add to his stable of mistresses, so Louis gets Raoul killed in a Uriah Gambit, leaving Louis free to seduce Christine. Louis also orders the assassination of whoever is the secret leader of the Jesuits, which happens to be Aramis. Now both Aramis and Athos have reasons to hate Louis. They recruit Porthos in a plot against Louis.


Aramis is aware that Louis has a twin brother. Said brother Philippe (DiCaprio again) is the titular Man in the Iron Mask, kept prisoner to prevent him from claiming the throne. He is gentler and more compassionate than Louis. Their plot involves releasing Philippe and having him impersonate Louis, effectively replacing the King with a new one. They will have to face D'Artagnan, who is still loyal to Louis. They will also have to learn a secret Anne of Austria (Parillaud), widow of Louis XIII and mother of the boys, has kept to herself.

See also the 1929 American film The Iron Mask and the 1962 French film The Iron Mask.

This film provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: King Louis. Nobody likes him, and with good reason. Only D'Artagnan is loyal to him because he is Louis's father and is nurturing a dying spark of hope that, somehow, he can make the king change for the better.
  • Actually, I Am Him: Aramis is ordered by Louis to find and kill the leader of the Jesuits. He tells the other Musketeers about it and admits he is the leader.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The book was meant to contemplate the end of the Romantic era and was pretty much a Downer Ending: Athos dies of grief over his son, Porthos dies when his strength gives out during the escape plan, the plan to substitute Philippe for Louis fails and results in Philippe going into the mask in prison (he'd simply been exiled before), D'Artagnan spends the rest of his life serving Louis, and Aramis uses his political clout as a Jesuit to obtain pardon and become Louis's implicitly corrupt advisor. The Hollywood ending applied to the film was almost exactly the opposite of the book.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • Despite common belief, the fountains at the French royal palace are based on real fountains that used established technology for its day. The Alhambra in Granada, Spain, (constructed in the 14th century) has fountains powered not by electricity, but by gravity, with an aqueduct that brings water from the uphill Darro river.
    • There was an actual Man in the Iron Mask imprisoned in the Bastille. His identity has always been very much speculated on.
  • Always Identical Twins: The plot hinges on the fact that Louis has an identical twin brother, Philippe. The king, fearing twins might fight over the throne, kept Philippe's existence a secret by having him raised in the countryside until Louis had him imprisoned in the Bastille in a mask. Athos, who knows the truth, convinces Porthos and Aramis to help him replace Louis with the much nicer Philippe, which pits them against D'Artagnan in the process.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: King Louis is vicious, cruel and megalomaniacal. Although he initially comes across as charming, it is only in the service of achieving his own desires. He is contemptuous of others, lacks empathy, and can be short-tempered and vengeful towards real or perceived slights. Despite having no loyalty towards others and being willing to disregard human life, he expects complete loyalty from his men. The degree to which he meets the portrayal of Narcissistic Personality Disorder has led to years of debate over whether this was deliberate, or simply an attempt to portray someone who had been raised in a completely spoiled environment.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Part of the action takes place in the Palace of Versailles. While the palace construction did start in 1661, the initial building phase finished in 1664. That means that it is way too early for the King to move in.
    • Louis XIV's chamber has a hanging portrait... of Louis XV, Louis XIV's great-grandson, who was born nearly fifty years after the period covered by the film.
  • Anti-Interference Lock Up: Louis XIV, the King of France, has his identical twin brother Philippe locked up so he can't take the throne. He forces Philippe to wear the titular iron mask so no one will recognize him.
  • Artistic License – History: Has its own page.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The sword D'Artagnan throws through the fountain does not change its course, even as it is hit by upward-spraying beams of water.
  • Ass Shove: Porthos shoves a pistol up the behind of a belligerent brothel patron.
  • Badass Boast: "I wear the mask. The mask does not wear me."
    • Also:
    Porthos: I am Porthos! I defy the king!
    • And this, when Raoul is perfectly aware that he's being set up for a Uriah Gambit:
    Athos: The king is a dog and a coward.
    Raoul: Of which I am neither, and so I go!
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Despite living in a dungeon with little to no light, having no way to clean his teeth, probably not having bathed for the entirety of his sentence, and being given just enough food and water to keep him alive for the last six years, Phillippe looks remarkably healthy when the mask comes off.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Louis XIV had a twin brother that was imprisoned from birth and became the (historical) Man in the Iron Mask. He was then abducted and substituted with this brother by the Musketeers. Also, D'Artagnan (another historical figure) was the real father of both.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: After he mortally wounded D'Artagnan, a livid Philippe is all set to slice Louis in half, though D'Artagnan pleads that he spare his brother in his dying breath. He complies...and instead puts him in the mask and coldly sentences him to be locked in the dungeons for the rest of his life. The epilogue claims he eventually swayed from that too and let Louis live in the country in secret.
  • Bird-Poop Gag: Just after Aramis has berated Porthos for being miserable, telling him he should be cheerful, surrounded by the robins singing and the pigeons cooing, a bird poops on Porthos's hat.
  • Briar Patching: Philippe does some impromptu and rather inspired Briar Patching after he's been recaptured, begging his Jerkass brother to kill him rather than put him back in prison. With predictable results. When Athos, Porthos, and Aramis arrive to rescue Philippe, he's ready and waiting for them rather than being the emotional wreck they were expecting. When asked, he just reminds them that "I wear the mask, it does not wear me."
    • Appropriately Louis does have a complete mental breakdown after he is forced to wear the mask.
  • Bungled Suicide: When Porthos' depresssion hits its lowest point, he believes he has nothing to go on living for. He kisses the tavern girls goodbye and goes into the barn to hang himself. Naked. When Athos questions the big thud and Porthos swearing, Aramis admits he was expecting Porthos to try this and sawed through the beam. He only becomes alarmed when the roof collapses on top of Porthos.
    Aramis: I'm a genius, not an engineer!
  • The Coup: The plot centers around a group of musketeers who want to substitute their tyrannical king Louis XIV with his more compassionate twin brother Phillippe, who was kept prisoner to prevent him from taking the throne. They break him out of prison to perform a Coup.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Philippe is so used to eating and drinking in the mask that he spills water on himself when it is removed.
  • Death Seeker: D'Artagnan guesses Athos's foolish and rage-fueled attack on the Musketeer barracks was to try and get himself killed out of grief over Raoul's death.
    D'Artagnan: What he wished to kill was his own pain.
  • Defiant to the End: The dying Jesuit assassin who utters "Feed your people!" before Louis finishes him.
  • Disappointed in You: Every word from D'Artagnan to Louis is dripping with this, but being who he is Louis fails to catch on. Made all the meaningful when D'Artagnan finally meets his other son Phillippe who is everything his brother isn't.
  • Driven to Suicide: Christine, when she finds out about Louis's Uriah Gambit and can't bear to live any longer in the power of the man who killed her fiancé.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: To a point; Louis at least understands factors such as how Raoul's sense of duty would compel him to return to the front if ordered, but assumed that the four musketeers' loyalty to the title of the king of France would trump their own feelings about him as a person.
  • Evil Jesuit: Zig-zagged. The Jesuits (depicted as mostly laypeople instead of priests) are treated by Louis XIV as dissidents and rebels, and he immediately identifies the man who nearly manages to assassinate him as one, but they're critics of his reign on moral grounds and Aramis is secretly their leader.
  • Fake Identity Baggage: The musketeers succeed in subduing Louis and replacing him with his identical twin brother Philippe during a masquerade ball held at the palace. Unfortunately, none of them count on Christine, who has just discovered that Louis set up her husband to be killed in battle, publicly accusing "Louis" of murder. This also causes D'Argatan to see through the ruse when he notices Philippe's reaction is uncharacteristic for Louis.
  • Fake King: Philippe (although he does have a legitimate claim and is only 'fake' in the sense that he's the younger brother by a matter of minutes).
  • Famed In-Story: The elder Musketeers.
  • Fan Disservice: A naked Porthos is an unpleasant sight.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Philippe begs Louis to kill him rather than sending him back to prison. Because he knows that this is the only way the cruel Louis will consider leaving him alive.
  • A Good Way to Die:
    D'Artagnan: This is the death I have always wanted.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: After Aramis prevents his suicide attempt, Porthos recovers his spirit and decides to live after all.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Lieutenant André is so disgusted by Louis's behaviour and downright furious at his murder of D'Artagnan that he happily goes along with the switcheroo of imprisoning Louis in the mask at the end.
  • Heroic BSoD: Porthos spends the first half in one due to his impotence, which ends with his Bungled Suicide.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: D'Artagnan throws himself between Louis and Philippe, getting stabbed instead of Philippe.
  • Hidden Backup Prince: Philippe.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: The Jesuits are actively opposing the king, so he decides to put a man in charge of finding their father general and killing him. Of course, he chooses one of his close allies: Aramis, who turns out to be the Jesuit general.
  • Honorary True Companion: In the final confrontation, Philippe is permitted to join the four musketeers in their final "One for all, all for one" moment despite having never been a musketeer himself.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Or rather, If You Imprison Him In An Iron Mask For The Rest Of His Life, You Will Be Just Like Him. Philippe ultimately pardons Louis and allows him to retire to the country in comfortable exile, utterly proving himself the better man.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder
    Aramis: I'm a genius, not an engineer! (after the aforementioned beam sawing and barn collapsing)
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Justified because the firing squad were Musketeers and we see them deliberately missing. They are firing at not only their own captain but probably the most famous men in all France besides the king himself. Leading directly to...
  • Improvised Weapon: Porthos uses a torch as a bludgeon at one point.
  • It's All About Me: Louis has no problem taking another man's fiancé as his mistress after arranging for the man to be sent on a suicide mission in the first place, and uses his status as king to basically do whatever he wants.
  • Living Legend: All of them, but specially D'Artagnan: "The corridor nullifies our numbers, and nobody has the stomach to fight the captain!"
  • Locked in the Dungeon: Philippe, until the Musketeers rescue him.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: D'Artagnan is the real father of Louis and Philippe.
  • Masquerade Ball: Figures prominently in the attempt to replace Louis with Philippe. With the added bonus that the hidden twin had spent his entire life wearing a heavy iron mask, which he flashes to the king from under the decorative gold one to freak him out, along with the Three Musketeers. It works.
  • Master Swordsman: The four musketeers. Though Athos and D'Artagnan really do stand out.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: In reply to a perfectly sensible lament of Queen Anne, Aramis came out with a memorable bit of important-sounding nonsense.
    Anne: I have raised a son who destroys lives instead of saving them, and I have failed to save a son who died within an iron mask.
    Aramis: No! That mask was Louis' creation. Now we have a chance to make a miracle. To strip all masks away forever.
    • Considering the extent of his plan is to replace the nasty-creep brother on the throne with his nice-guy brother, that last statement makes absolutely no sense.
  • Melancholy Moon: Shortly after his first escape from prison, Philippe is unable to sleep and spends time gazing at the full moon. Not only is he overcome with the beauty of the moon he had been unable to fully witness while in prison, but he's also burdened by the sheer weight of responsibility and expectations demanded of him by his rescuers.
  • Mob-Boss Suit Fitting: In the scene where Louis XIV is introduced, a tailor is altering the king's suit.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: It is all but explicitly stated that Aramis's role in the coup is at least partly motivated by his desire to make up for his role in imprisoning Philippe in the mask in the first place.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: D'Artagnan is blindly loyal to Louis, despite his evil and capricious nature, because he is Louis's father. Eventually, he comes around to the other musketeers' viewpoint that he must go, when he learns that their look-alike for the king is Louis's twin brother. Thus another son of his.
  • Never My Fault: When D'Artagnan finds out that Christine hanged herself in despair, he throws open Louis's window so the king can see for himself what he's caused. Louis reacts with horror, but sharply orders D'Artagnan to "get rid of it" (it being Christine's corpse), clearly refusing to accept responsibility or acknowledge the wrong he's done to her.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The character of "Christine" is based on a historical figure: Louise de La Vallière (1644-1710), the chief mistress of Louis XIV of France from 1661 to 1667. The character is clearly identified in the novel but renamed in the film. Probably, the scriptwriters thought that having a relationship between characters named Louis and Louise would be too confusing for the viewers. Which ended up giving the film a love triangle between wide-eyed Christine, all-around good guy Raoul and a villainous third party (who ends up) wearing a mask.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Some characters sport Just a Stupid Accent with more or less success, while Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't seem to even try while playing the King of France. Gerard Depardieu's actual French accent puts the lie to everyone else, though. As do Anne Parillaud's and Judith Godreche's.
  • Oh, Crap!: At the barracks, Lieutenant André hands D'Artagnan a list of casualties from the war. D'Artagnan's expression becomes one of horror as he (presumably) sees Raoul's name on the list. He asks André if Athos knows...and then promptly sees his old comrade storming across the ground, armed to the teeth and with an expression that clearly screams he has murder in mind. Yeah, D'Artagnan, he definitely knows.
  • One-Liner: Too many of these. However, it thankfully (and surprisingly) averts Bond One-Liner.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Athos outlives his son Raoul. Purposefully averted by D'Artagnan.
  • Out-of-Character Alert / Spotting the Thread: What first tips off D'Artagnan that Phillipe has replaced Louis is when Philippe tries to help up a noblewoman who tripped in front of him, while the real Louis would have probably just laughed at her.
  • Papa Wolf: Athos, leading to his attempted Roaring Rampage of Revenge. He also takes on this role to a degree with Philippe.
    • And:
    D'Artagnan: Even if I could give up my king, I cannot give up my son.
  • Parental Substitute: Athos becomes this to Philippe; after D'Artagnan's death, Philippe explicitly asks if Athos could do him the final favour of letting Philippe love him as a son loves a father.
  • Patricide: Louis winds up killing D'Artagnan, who is really his father.
  • Person with the Clothing: First Philippe, then his brother. In fact, the clothing is powerful that when someone puts it on, he instantly becomes this trope.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Porthos and his impotence problems.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Louis is extremely cruel, uncaring, and selfish, while Philippe is a much nicer person and even pardons Louis at the end of the film.
  • Preferable Impersonator: The Three Musketeers hope to replace Louis XIV with his secret twin Philippe/the Man in the Iron mask, hoping he pulls this off over Louis XIV. Ultimately he does, and proves one of France's greatest kings.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Just about everything Athos says is this.
  • Retired Badass Roundup: Getting the Three Musketeers back together.
  • Sanctuary of Solitude: Anne of Austria does this.
  • Say My Name: Raoul shouts "Christine!" when he makes his fatal charge.
  • Shout-Out: The young lovers Raoul and Christine share the names of the main characters of The Phantom of the Opera, though Christine was named Louise in the novel, as she was based on an actual mistress of Louis XIV.
  • Snooty Sports: The 1977 movie portrays croquet as a snooty sport. It's being played on the immaculate palace lawn of King Louis XIV, with the King himself as a participant, along with some of his nobles. Colbert steps up to drive his ball through the final wicket when Duval discretely inquires, "Can you make it?" Colbert's response is, "And risk another royal tantrum? I shall miss by a league." Immaculate lawns are few and far between in war-ravaged, starving France at the time.
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: At the climax, the musketeers don their old uniforms to demonstrate loyalty to a higher, older, and more principled calling as they rise in rebellion to depose the king and replace him with his twin brother. Unlike other Three Musketeers movies, their uniforms are black instead of blue; the current Musketeer uniforms are blue and red.
  • Swashbuckler: With the Musketeers involved, this was hardly a surprise.
  • Thicker Than Water: Despite the numerous crimes Louis has committed as King, D'Artagnan still serves him out of paternal loyalty.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: D'Artagnan uses this move to take down a Jesuit assassin attacking Louis.
  • True Companions/Band of Brothers: The Three Musketeers, of course. The "Fourth Musketeer" D'Artagnan is opposed to them out of loyalty to the King but sides with them at the end. All for one, one for all!
    • Notably, Porthos doesn't have a personal grievance with Louis (Aramis is the Jesuit head who Louis wants dead, and Athos lost his son because of Louis), but he goes along with their plot because of their fellowship and for the greater good (and because he's bored out of his fucking mind and wants to experience adventure again).
  • Uriah Gambit: King Louis XIV, upon finding out that Christine is already engaged to Raoul and is completely loyal to him, sends Raoul to the front lines to die in battle. Though the plan succeeds, it also backfires since it gains Louis the utter enmity of Raoul's father, one of the legendary Three Musketeers. (And he ultimately doesn't get to enjoy what he wanted either because Christine is completely miserable with being his mistress, eventually finds out the truth about what happened to Raoul, confronts him - or the man she thinks is him - with her knowledge, and finally commits suicide out of despair.)
  • Villainous Breakdown: Louis has a protracted one during the film's second and third acts; he leaves the ball when he sees the iron mask in the crowd, is shouting at and shoving everyone who comes close to him (including his mother) after the Musketeers' failed attempt to depose him, actually goes to the battle himself when the heroes are cornered in the Bastille, and devolves into incoherent screaming when he's forced into the iron mask and carried off to prison.
  • Weird Moon: Just after he's been freed from the prison for the first time, Philippe can't sleep and ends up at the window gazing at the full moon that he had struggled so hard to see while in prison. The moon is huge. Doubles as a Melancholy Moon given the poignancy of the emotions in the scene.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Athos's and D'Artagnan's friendship falls apart when D'Artagnan stays loyal to Louis even after his arranging Raoul's murder to get his hands on Christine. They reconcile at the end before D'Artagnan dies, Athos having realised his old friend only served his corrupt and evil king out of paternal loyalty.
    Athos: The next time we meet, one of us will die!

Alternative Title(s): Man In The Iron Mask