The Mask Task is the first chapter of the ten-chapter science anthology series “Mosaic.” The series inspects identity in its natural and artificial forms through a hybrid creature Mosaic. The Mask Task is a short experimental film that perfectly encompasses the absurdity and mystery of some of the rawest of human elements like emotion and fear. The director, Josephine Decker, succeeds in creating a versatile atmosphere characterized by an eeriness that ties all the different clips in the film together to create an intense 11 minute audio-visual experience.
The Mask Task incorporates numerous camera angles and camera movements where the film subjects have different relationships with these cameras as well as different degrees of awareness of their presence; some actors break the fourth wall, whereas others appear as subjects of an experiment. Many of the scenes during the film feel like a documentation of an experimental study because the subjects’ behaviors lack predictability and intentionality. In these moments, the director’s presence is restricted to her making the choice of what scenes to include and how to frame the story, and is stripped of control over the individual actions and expressions of all of her “actors”. This could be clearly observed in the scenes where the masks are tested on some of the children, and amplifies the intensity of these moments as it gives the scenes an authentic quality where even the individuals in the film that are being given directions, like the woman testing the masks on the children, break character and join the uncontrolled world the children are allowed to be in.
However, a strong contrast is seen in the other set of clips in the film which are highly choreographed and planned like the opening scene and the scenes featuring Japanese Butoh dance. This disparity maintains the ghostly and mysterious feel of the film by asserting the filmmaker’s ominous presence. Nevertheless, the aforementioned spirit of flexibility and authenticity is still implicitly buried in these scenes like in the choice of specifically including Butoh dance which is characterized by its resistance to being defined and controlled. Butoh is also often associated with darkness, death, and disease and is accompanied with grotesque and disturbing movements that focus on primal and raw human conditions and thus is very symbolic of and intertwined with the idea of The Mask Task.
One of the film’s strongest qualities is its very fierce and ambitious use of audio. In multiple instances during the film, we hear fast-paced or anticipatory music, multiple documentary audio clips, and diegetic sounds all at once. This blurs the lines between documentary and fiction, natural and artificial, as well as subject and actor thus in turn fulfilling the mission of the film of having the audience craft their own interpretations of the enigmas of human nature that are being explored.
These primal human attributes like emotion, stress, and fear travel so effortlessly across the scenes and the characters in the film where they are felt in ever sound and action we hear and see. They take up natural forms in the cries of the children and movements of the dancers as well as artificial forms in the intimidating audio and lights. Through this 11 minute film, Josephine Decker brilliantly chooses to make us feel deeply rather than understand deeply every single moment in this chilling journey.
About the author
Lujain is an undergraduate student studying computer engineering at New York University Abu Dhabi who is particularly invested in engineering applications in the world of biotechnology and biomedicine. She is also interested in exploring science and technology in film as well as the cultural and political significance of cinema.