Eyes Without A Face // James Pate


I’m really just using the mirror to summon something I don’t even know until I see it.

Cindy Sherman

When I look across the table, I don’t only see you but I see a whole emanation which has to do with the personality and everything else. And to put that over in a painting, as I would like to be able to do in a portrait, means that it would appear violent in paint.

Francis Bacon



The opening music a carnivalesque mixture of the whimsical and macabre.

Jaunty, eerie, pranksterish.

Like a jester in a skull mask.

Night, country road, a single car, only the tree trunks illuminated by headlights.

Treetops lost in the night sky.

The driver a woman in a shiny black leather coat, black gloves.

The style of 1960’s pre-Goth Goth.

A huddled figure in the backseat in trench coat and lowered fedora.

No face: not from our angle. Never from our angle.

A figure from a French noir in a film that leaks horror.

Dead or sleeping, the figure waits.

Wheels stop. A door opens.

Light fog, lapping water, the body dragged to the lake’s edge.

Black water glistens and her black coat glistens.

The figure barefoot, as bodies are in caskets.


film notes

The face as a specter we conjure in order to imagine what others see when they imagine us. But we have no idea what faces others imagine when they think about us. Our face multiplies in ways we can’t begin to conceptualize/control/account for. And we’ll never encounter those imagined faces, never see them in the mirror.

Most faces are imagined, not seen.

Deleuze distinguishes between the face and the head, the face being aligned with the anthropomorphic and the head with what he calls “the Figure,” from which what we call the self emerges. This makes sense especially when thinking about Bacon, where the face is a virtual, kinetic manifestation from the mass of the head.

The politics of the face, capitalism, the self = the resume and skill set.

The politics of the head and/or mask, Wilde’s polyphonic socialism, the self = one among many lifeforms on the planet.

There are 42 muscles in the human face. There’s one piece of skin over it. The skin has holes for the ears and nostrils and eyes and a larger hole for the mouth.

Bees are said to recognize human faces but humans can’t recognize bee faces.

When we hear the voice in our heads, do we see the voice coming from a mouth? Does that mouth include a face? Is that face our own?


In the film, she who is said to have no face is also said to have no life.

The father creates fake-death for his daughter.

Her life circumscribed by Family.

He creates more young women without faces hoping to regain the face of his daughter.

Less Mad Scientist than Arrogant Scholar.

Not the crazed eyes but the resting-face of gentle academic disdain.

We see him first speaking of the future to others.

The rich in their rich clothes.

His daughter without her face sees through him.

His control, his hatred for whatever’s beyond his intellectual scope.

The sickness within French humanism.

The fear/rage against anything without a human face.

Like the dogs he cages in his cellar.

But the mask is beautiful.

Expressive in its frozen form as it moves through rooms of varying shadow.

As his daughter slowly recognizes.

Whose name is Christiane and with her eyes sees past them all.


film notes

The weather-worn face, the rock-face, the latex mask face, the dried flower-face, Leather Face with his dance to the rising face of the sun, the blank face which is aligned with Poker Face, the once-human-but-now-corpse face, the face with features and the face scrubbed of features, the genre of the face, the cinematic faces of Cindy Sherman which prove the mask is not a material but a mode, the faces in Francis Bacon paintings which are a composite of speed and meat and nerve, the face we speak through and face we speak out of, the sleeping face which looks like but is not the dead face, the way we “face the world” with the face, the way we say “out of their heads” but never “out of their faces,” the way Carpenter is said to have been inspired by Christiane’s mask when thinking of the mask for Michael Myers, which as everyone knows is William Shatner’s face.

The story by Michael Cisco where some pick out cheap Halloween masks and place them on and never take them off. The liberation of living perpetually in autumn. Or an off-season carnival. Would the eyes within the masks become less and less familiar, or would the mask become more familiar? Or would perpetual mask-wearing mark a limit beyond which familiarity versus unfamiliarity is no longer the issue?


In Eyes Without a Face, death and face and identity are interlaced. Christiane does not die, but two women who are sacrificed in her father’s attempts to give her a new “face” are buried in the cemetery crypt where the public world thinks Christiane herself is buried. By doing so, it’s as if Christiane’s faux-death creates the burial site of two actual deaths.

In one of the most striking lines in the film, Christiane says (in response to her father’s assistant calling her new face “angelic”), “When I look in the mirror, I feel I’m looking at someone who looks like me, but seems to come from the Beyond.” Christiane is not a complete innocent in the film. She knows her “new face” has come from a woman (Edna) her father and her father’s assistant (Louise) kidnapped. Christiane even interacts with Edna before the operation, and reveals her unmasked face to her. When Christiane says her new face seems to “come from the Beyond,” she seems to be intuiting she is in many ways wearing Edna’s death-mask, the mask of her victim.

This new face, this death-face, rebels against Christiane, begins to deteriorate, become corpse-like, a living death-mask. Christiane returns to her first mask. She is changed at this point. She starts to see more through her mask, and to see the cruelty of her father and her father’s assistant.


The scene where Christiane’s father surgically removes Edna’s face is what made the film notorious when it first appeared in 1960, and it’s probably this scene that caused the British film critic Isabel Quigly to write that the movie “was the sickest film since I started film criticism.” And when the film was released in the States in 1962, parts of the scene were removed.

The scene still retains its uneasy power, and could be viewed as a foreshadowing of the French Extremity films that would start to appear in the 1990s. Without the scene, we would never fully encounter the coldly violent intellectualism of Christiane’s father Dr. Génessier, who views the woman whose face he is excising as a concept and a problem but not a person. Part of the shock, too, is that we don’t expect to see images like this in a film from 1960. It’s almost as if someone from the future has spliced an incredibly horrific scene into an older movie.


Is face to genre what Figure is to composition/style.

In the final moments, noir and the Gothic and the fairytale crosshatch.

The dogs her father keeps released, howling with Christiane’s rage and hurt.

To tear off the face of her father.

His worst fear: to lose face.

In her mask she emerges from the cellar doorway.

Like a shape from the crypt.

The strangeness of the mask is her now.

No longer needing a face to circulate.

Within the film, her first time under the sky.

As she wonders among the loose dogs, the uncaged birds.

Like statuary come to life.

Peering about as if for the first time.

Away from us and our stories about her.


James Pate is a fiction writer, poet and book reviewer. He has had work published in Oculus Sinister: An Anthology of Ocular Horror, Dark Lane Anthology, Black Warrior Review, 3:AM Magazine, Deracine: A Gothic Literary Magazine, Ligeia, Coffin Bell, and Occulum, among other places. His books include The Fassbinder Diaries (Civil Coping Mechanisms), Flowers Among the Carrion: Essays on the Gothic in Contemporary Poetry (Action Books Salvo Series), and Speed of Life (Fahrenheit Press). His poetry collection Mineral Planet is forthcoming from Schism Neuronics.

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