Friday, December 09, 2005
Movie Review: "Mysterious Skin"
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg and Elisabeth Shue
Directed by Gregg Araki
On the whole, movies try to stay far away from risqué subject matter, lest it affect the bottom line of profitability. But a select few, such as writer-director Gregg Araki's sensitive, yet potent examination of the psychological impact sexual abuse can have on children, remain uncompromising in telling a story.
Based on a novel by Scott Heim, "Mysterious Skin" follows the stories of two troubled teenagers in the midst of identity crises – both of which can be tied to what happened to them as 8-year-olds. Or to be more precise, it's tied to what was done to them.
The two teens were each molested by their Little League baseball coach (Bill Sage) on one summer night that sends them on wildly divergent paths. Brian (Brady Corbet) suffers from chronic nosebleeds, bedwetting, and social awkwardness in subsequent years. Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) heads more towards juvenile delinquency, even while he turns towards a life of a gay hustler.
Brian's memories of that night as an 8-year-old and another incident several years later are a mystery to him, as he has blocked them from his subconscious. His mission becomes trying to find out what happened – a journey that leads him to seek out Neil, whom he hasn't seen since that night.
Catching a program on TV one night, Brian becomes convinced that his memory loss of those hours of his life are the result of an alien abduction. He seeks out Ayalyn (Mary Lynn Rajskub), a person featured in the program, who only strengthens his conviction in believing what we already know not to be the truth.
Neil's memories of his summer on the Little League team are definitely intact, as he quickly becomes the favorite player of the coach, who on the surface, would seem perfectly normal. With the lure of video games, candy and more importantly to Neil, attention from an adult (his father is long gone and his mother works a lot), he spends a lot of time with the coach in his home. In a thankfully restrained but no less disturbing scene, Neil is sexually seduced into believing what his coach is doing is acceptable.
As he grows up, Neil takes unwarranted risks in what has quickly become a sexually promiscuous lifestyle. But horribly bored with his life in his small Kansas hometown, Neil heads to stay with a friend in New York City, a place where his risky behavior leads to increasingly dangerous encounters.
If any of the above description doesn't spell it out, I'll be blunt – this is at times, a very difficult movie to watch. Nudity is kept to a minimum, but the subject matter certainly doesn't leave a lot to the imagination. However, the story itself is quite compelling as it skillfully juggles two separate threads between the two teens that don't intersect until a powerful finale.
And the acting, particularly from Corbet and Gordon-Levitt is outstanding. Viewers might recognize Gordon-Levitt from his role on the former NBC sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun," but nothing on that show can possibly prepare you for the devastating emotional and physical performance he puts on in this film. In the less showy role, as it were, Corbet also gives a very effective performance, as he slowly begins to assemble the pieces of a troubled childhood.
Far from a fun experience, "Mysterious Skin" is still an important piece of filmmaking. It attempts to shine a light where others won't look, for fear of what will be found. But as long as heinous crimes such as pedophilia continue to plague society, it's important that films such as this exist. Whether viewers choose to acknowledge them is clearly another matter.
(This film is not rated, but contains strong sexual content and language.)