The Man Without a Face

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For the 1928 film serial, see The Man Without a Face (1928 serial).
The Man Without a Face
Man without a face movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mel Gibson
Produced by Bruce Davey
Written by Screenplay:
Malcolm MacRury
Isabelle Holland
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Donald McAlpine
Edited by Tony Gibbs
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • August 25, 1993 (1993-08-25)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $24,760,338 (US)[1]

The Man Without a Face is a 1993 American drama film starring and directed by Mel Gibson, his first film as both director and actor. The film is based on Isabelle Holland's 1972 novel of the same name. Gibson's directorial debut received respectful reviews from most critics.


The film takes place in 1968. For the past seven years, Justin McLeod (Gibson) has been living an isolated existence as a reclusive painter following a car accident which left him disfigured on the right side of his face and chest by burns sustained in a post-crash fire.

Young Chuck Nordstadt (Nick Stahl) endures a dysfunctional relationship with his sister and their widowed mother. One day, Chuck meets McLeod on a ferry; Chuck is both intrigued and slightly scared of him. Chuck needs a tutor to help him pass a military academy's entrance exam; McLeod is the only one who openly believes Chuck can and will succeed. Eventually, Chuck persuades McLeod to become his teacher; although he is initially baffled by McLeod's unorthodox methods, the two develop a close friendship.

Chuck keeps his daily meetings with McLeod a secret, to avoid being scorned for associating with a disfigured man whose past is shrouded in mystery. No one knows much about McLeod, and few people have ever made an effort to know him; this has made McLeod the object of gossip, speculation, and suspicion.

Ultimately, Widow Nordstadt learns that her son has been visiting McLeod. She and the rest of the town convince themselves that McLeod is molesting Chuck, despite Chuck's adamant denials. Chuck researches McLeod's car accident, which involved the death of another boy, hence McLeod's fear of another attachment. Chuck is forcibly taken to a psychiatrist, who Chuck (accurately) suspects is also biased against McLeod.

Chuck inevitably confronts McLeod to learn the truth of his disfigurement, and to discover the identity of that youth who was killed in the same car crash. As it turns out, the other boy was a student of McLeod's. Consequently, McLeod was (unjustly) branded a pedophile, was exiled from his hometown, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and served three years in prison. Once his relationship with Chuck is openly known, McLeod is once again run out of town, and ordered by the authorities to have no contact with Chuck.

On his way out of town, McLeod leaves Chuck a note; it wishes him the best of luck in his academic goals, and reminds him to be tolerant with people who are different. In the film's finale, Chuck is shown graduating from the military academy as his sister and their mom look on proudly. Chuck sees a familiar figure in the background, and recognizes it as his "faceless" tutor.



The Man Without a Face was filmed in Deer Isle, Maine and marked the film debut of Nick Stahl. Mel Gibson initially had planned only to direct the film, and he asked three other actors to play the role of Justin McLeod. However, due to difficulty securing funding, Gibson decided to star in the film.[citation needed] Scenes that take place at the School were filmed in Brunswick, Maine at Bowdoin College with the aid of the Local Brunswick High School to fill out the age appropriate stand ins.


The film received a mixed to positive response from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, The Man Without a Face holds a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews.

Treatment of sexuality[edit]

The film's treatment of sexuality between Justin McLeod and Chuck Norstadt differs from the book by Isabelle Holland. In the original novel, McLeod behaves in a way that could be interpreted as child grooming, taking Chuck swimming and being affectionate to him. Chuck, meanwhile, seems to be attracted to McLeod as more than just as a father figure. There is one scene where it is strongly implied that Chuck and McLeod have some kind of sexual experience in his bedroom. In the film, McLeod demonstrates no sexual interest in the boy at all, even though Chuck appears downstairs in his underwear when the police officer calls. Critics have noted that the book's criticism of homophobia had been obscured in the film version.[citation needed]

Gibson has expressed dislike for the book because of its implied sexual contact between McLeod and Chuck: "I read the script first and that's what I liked. The book is just – I'm sorry, but the guy did it. And you know, like, why? I just wanted to say something a lot more positive."[2]

Urban legend[edit]

Around the time of the releases of Gibson's films The Patriot and The Passion of the Christ, an internet rumour falsely attributed to radio commentator Paul Harvey claimed this film was based on an actual incident that happened to Gibson as a young man. It proved to be false.[3]


  1. ^ "The Man Without a Face (1993)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 20, 2010. 
  2. ^ Joanna Conners (August 22, 1993). "The Many Faces of Mel". The Plain Dealer. 
  3. ^ The Man Without a Face. Retrieved on 2011-09-30.

External links[edit]