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Mysterious Skin

November 13, 2013

Mysterious Skin (2005)
Director: Gregg Araki
Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg

mysterious-skin-2_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85.jpg (200×109)

Synopsis: Two young men, Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet), are from the same town but live seemingly different lives. Neil is a nihilistic, masochistic male prostitute, while Brian is a sheltered college student, plagued by strange dreams and an obsession with paranormal activity. It just so happens they are united by an extremely dark secret from their childhood…

Review: This stupendous, highly graceful film by Gregg Araki pulls off the seemingly impossible act of making an intelligent, literate drama about child abuse without being conventionally didactic or possessing other tub-thumping tropes of classic ‘issue’ movies.

It’s a really interesting way of going about tackling the after-effects of child abuse. By taking almost the two extreme, polar reactions to it (Neil turns into a reckless and licentious young man, while Brian goes inward, inhabiting a hermetic, delusional world whereby he shuts out any acknowledgement of the abuse, and it’s only in the sci-fi nightmares he suffers that the trauma vicariously manifests itself on his conscious). If that all sounds very academic – which in a sense it is – Araki’s great achievement is in making his narrative very engaging, vibrant and humane. Both character’s worlds and eccentricities are not condescended to – Neil’s ‘outsiders’ entourage of emo-inspired gay guy Eric and punk chick Wendy (a gorgeous Michelle Trachtenberg) are probably the two loveliest and most considerate characters in the narrative, and Brian’s typical middle-American mother is extremely compassionate and very accepting when Eric enters the orb of Brian’s life.

I also like the fact there’s no clear-cut cathartic ending. Sure, there’s a tension in the narrative that these two key characters need to meet to come to terms with their collective trauma, but in a beautifully-judged climactic scene where they bumblingly break into their baseball coach’s old house, all they can do is try to comfort each other, and Neil in particular makes some form of penance for his role in colluding with his coach in the ‘corruption’ of Brian. (November 2013)

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