Mysterious Skin - a crazy tale of child abuse and aliens


Mysterious Skin (2004, USA/Netherlands)

Seen: Sunday, 27th December 2009
Runtime: 105′
Director: Gregg Araki
Cast: Chase Ellison, Elisabeth Shue, Bill Sage, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Brady Corbet, Jeffrey Licon
Production House: Desperate Pictures, Antidote Films, Fortissimo Film Sales
Plot: The parallel stories of two teenagers. One sleeps with men for money, the other is obsessed with alien abductions.


If you want to see more then here’s an amusing clip from the film :)

Impressions In Short
It’s hilarious watching this back to back with (500) days of summer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is so warm, fuzzy and romantic in the latter that watching him in this as a teenage degenerate is very satisfying somehow ;) I actually had seen Mysterious Skin before, but my memory of it was very hazy and he’s so different in it that I never made the connection.

More About the Film
I first watched this over 4 years ago at the most perverse edition ever of the Era Nowe Horyzonty film festival. Mysterious Skin was scheduled about half way through it, by which time everyone was so desensitized by the amount of brutality and sexual perversion spouted at us, that me and my friend Beata actually felt Mysterious Skin was a really easygoing and sweet film despite the paedophilia theme. Having watched it again, I’m not entirely sure how we arrived at that conclusion, but I guess that’s testament to just how perverse that particular festival was ;)
My memory did not retain the information that one of the main characters, Neil (played by Gordon-Levitt) prostituted himself and that they show him in about 5 explicit gay sex scenes (one of the many reasons this film received an NC-17 certificate in the USA). Even more weirdly, I did not remember the very brutal rape scene - judging by imdb that’s the one scene that stays with everyone (it’s even being compared to Irreversible).
Mainly what seemed to stay with me was the alien abduction theme and that the child abuse scenes are done very delicately (this I remembered accurately ;)).
The biggest strength of the film is most definitely the story and characters. I think partly what gave me and my friend the idea that this film was “sweet” was that even though it’s disturbing, it’s not just out there to shock you - it is trying to do some proper character and story development as well. And it actually does have its fair share of lighter (and even sweet) moments.
The paedophilia theme has quite an unusual and bold approach. The 8 year old Neil is:
a) already somewhat conscious of his sexuality before being abused (he knows he’s gay and he’s already masturbating)
b) he is infatuated with the baseball coach that deals out the abuse
This is not to say that the film condones paedophilia in any way. Neil has been seriously screwed up by the events (one could even argue he’s been screwed up more than any of the other boys the coach molested precisely because he had those extra factors in place). But it certainly adds a bit of a twist.
The other unusual thing about the paedophilia is how the coach plays it out. I’ve very rarely seen films that have portrayed paedophiles as anything other than violent predators. The idea that they might actually attempt to woo and trick kids into sex rather than use physical force is almost unheard of in cinema, even though in life it probably often plays out like that.
The sex scenes involving the kids are very sensitively done - they’re disturbing because of what is implied and said rather than what is shown. The ones between adults are somewhat more graphic, but if you really break them down, they don’t show that much either. The first of Neil’s paid sex encounters is basically a long shot of Neil’s face while a man pushes fingers into his mouth - that’s it. Yet it felt pretty disturbing and “dirty”. Some of the scenes show a bit more (there is a little nudity), but they’re basically all in that vein. The point of them is what they reveal about Neil. I actually think this makes them more disturbing and memorable than if the purpose was purely to shock.
The cast is really good too. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has in some ways the flashiest part, so I suppose he’s the one who leaves the biggest dent in one’s memory. The way he plays it, the character basically tries to seduce anyone he meets. It gets pretty creepy at times. There’s a bizarre scene with him watching TV with his mother, where the vibe is pretty weird. There’s another scene like that which is being discussed on imdb. It’s between the teenage Neil and a little boy. Nothing particular happens in it, but the feeling it gives out is a bit disturbing…

Yes, but you might want to stay away if you’re not into graphic stuff. This is (or at least feels ;)) graphic as long as you’ve not recently been on a film marathon of brutality and sexual perversion as I was the first time I watched this ;)
Also, obviously the regular “this is an art house film” warning applies. It’s not a very difficult film in terms of style, the action is perfectly easy to follow and all that, but it’s definitely the kind of film that you mull over a bit afterwards.

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