Mysterious Skin

“A gorgeous, heartbreaking and utterly convincing work of art” — the New York Times

This movie was at times, too painful and disturbing to watch. But that’s what Araki seems to be going for, with this harsh but realistic portrayal of the long-term consequences of child abuse. The film tells the story of the two main characters, Neil (played excellently by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) who share nothing but an unfortunate, traumatizing experience with their baseball coach when they were 8 years old, and how they dealt with this memory ten years later.

The juxtaposition between the two’s coping mechanisms really accentuates the emotional toll that occurs with child molestation. Neil’s journey as a teenage prostitute is full of angst and vulnerability at the same time. He clings on the childish feeling that he was “special” and that his coach was his “one true love” in order to avoid the reality of his situation. He then takes on prostitution, more of a challenge than for necessity, in order to manifest “power” and “authority” over his johns. This power play quickly changes when he goes to New York city, where he meets an unfortunate turn with an NYC cop at Brighton Beach (don’t say I didn’t warn you, this scene made me cringe. I actually had to pause the film and go out for a walk to get my stomach to stop churning — and this is from the girl who watched Human Centipede 2 and saw the director’s immediate comedic reply to his critics through excessive gore). Kudos to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting–you have effectively scarred me for life.

Meanwhile, Brian’s defense mechanism relies on hardcore denial and alternate realities. He develops amnesia and convinces himself that aliens had abducted him during the five hours of his life that he seems to be missing. His journey is more fantastical and lends elements of a thriller/suspense charm to the whole film–which is essentially at the core of every abused child–finding the right answer to a question they are too young to form, and eventually have to deal with in their adult lives.

The last scene, as featured in the image above, is a saving grace for me, I have to admit. It is painful but it gives the melancholic sense (through the silence they contrast with the singing carolers) that healing can now begin for them both. I suggest watching this film cautiously, it is not for the faint of heart, but for those who seek to open their minds.


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