Mysterious Skin

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Mysterious Skin

Postby howardschumann(d) » Mon Nov 14, 2005 8:46 pm


Directed by Gregg Araki (2004)

Five hours, from the time it was raining after a Little League game until he woke up in the cellar of his home with a bloody nose, are a blank to eight-year old Brian (George Webster). In Gregg Araki's powerful drama, Mysterious Skin, Brian accounts for his missing time by confabulating it with stories of alien abductions and sets out on a path to uncover long suppressed memories. This is not a film about alien abductions, however, but about inappropriate sexual seduction of children and its deleterious effect on their development. While it is often graphic and difficult to watch, it is a sensitive film, held together by authentic and heartfelt performances by Joseph-Gordon Levitt as Neil and Brady Corbet as Brian that allow us to connect with their open wounds.

Based on a 1996 novel of the same name by Scott Heim, Mysterious Skin opens as Brian and Neil (Chase Ellison) are on the same baseball team in their hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas. Neil is the star athlete on the team, while Brian is not as good, a fact repeatedly pointed out to him by his father (Chris Mulkey) who later abandons the family. Neil is the son of a single mom (Elizabeth Shue) who is more attentive to her many boy friends than to Neil. Although only about ten, he feels that he's gay and is flattered when the coach (Bill Sage) takes an interest in him and brings him to his house to introduce him to snacks, video games, and sexual activity.

The film then moves ahead ten years to reveal two boys who have gone in different directions. Neil has become a male hustler who prefers older men and has found a niche in the town park that is available to prostitution. Though he seems to be to searching to recover the special loving feeling that he felt with his baseball coach, this proves elusive and he goes from one unloving john to another (typically depicted as old, fat, ugly, wealthy, or sadistic). His friend Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) describes Neil to his gay friend Eric (Jeff Licon) as a person with a black hole for a heart. To find more edgy experiences, Neil follows Wendy to New York but all he finds is more of the same and a lot edgier.

Brian, on the other hand, has become a deeply introverted teenager who accounts for his memory loss by assigning it to a UFO-related abduction, though he has none of the other common signs of alien abduction and is without physical evidence to prove it. He watches a television program about alien abductions and decides to meet one of the abductees on the program, a young woman named Avalyn (Mary Lynn Rajskub) with whom he visits and shares the dreams he has recorded in his notebook. Brian tells her of a dream he has had about a young boy on his baseball team and she encourages him to find out the boy's identity to shed some light on the missing time incident. When the young woman tries to seduce him, however, he recoils in horror. Eventually, Brian discovers Neil's identity by researching the team history at the library and the final sequence in the coach's empty house when Neil and Brian meet at Christmastime is memorable for its tender beauty.

Mysterious Skin is an honest and compelling film in which there are no good guys and bad guys, just flawed people who act out their deep-seated needs in a harmful sexual way. Although Araki doesn't stand in judgment of his characters or their behavior, the results of their actions are unmistakable. Although we watch Neil engage in self-destructive behavior, the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is so revealing that we root for him in spite of reluctantly noticing the open pit into which he is falling. The only false note in the film is the implication that "screen" memories masking the repression of sexual abuse are an explanation of alien abductions. According to David Jacobs (Secret Life, 1992), of the thousands of accounts of UFO-related abductions no screen memories have ever been stripped away to reveal a past history of abuse. This is only a minor flaw, however, in one of the best films of the year.


Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby hengcs » Sun Nov 20, 2005 12:36 pm

I am reposting (with some edit) whatever I have written from filmwurld into here ...

My only comments are:
WOW ... Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance was superb!

Unfortunately it is not a mainstream movie ...
Hence, I think his chances of being nominated for any mainstream acting awards are reduced ...

I, however, do not quite like the "alien take" of the movie ... As I have watched the movie quite some time ago, this is what I can vaguely recall ... *guilty grin* ... maybe I should watch it again?! hiaks hiaks ...

The main reason that I do not like the "alien take" is because:
-- The entire movie comes across as a bold, thought provoking critique of society, plagued with plight, humanity and realism ... In essence, I deem it as daring, disturbing and dark!!!
-- However, the "alien take" (at least the way the movie is filmed) has overshadowed the initial intention (if any at all) to add that slice of "sci fi", supernaturalism and hence, unrealism to the movie. Worst of all, it actually peppers the movie with "comical" moments which I do not really appreciate. In my humble opinion, it actually veers the audience off track in terms of mood and feel ...

I feel that the director could have filmed the sci-fi aspect in a more "down-to-earth" or "realistic" fashion (oxymoron?!) as opposed to now, which comes across as "incredulous" or even "absurd". In other words, this is what I feel/suggest: if we look at movies in the drama or sci-fi genre, there are many that are filmed that touches the audience (as opposed to them "disbelieving" or even "ridiculing" the protagonist).

I do NOT mind the director keeping the "alien belief" of the protagonist, but the obsession can be dealt with in a way most successful films did it (i.e., for a moment, we actually "believe" in the existence of aliens!) ... so that the entire movie can maintain a consistent style as well as a consistent mood, and most important of all, makes everything "realistic"!

Even I can't believe myself! Guess what ...
I actually went to watch the movie again ... so that the discussion would be more fruitful ...

So, did the movie actually depict UFOs and aliens?
yup ... on several occasions
(i) During summer, Brian, his sister and his mother literally saw the UFO flying over their house ... and not just a blurred UFO ... but a rather detailed UFO ...
(ii) In another scene, he was touched by the "green hands" of aliens, only to wake up ...
(iii) The next scene is more "understandable" ... when the TV enacted the story of the girl who claimed she was abducted by aliens ... so they even featured three aliens and her elevating ...
(iv) When the girl brought Brian to the animal and insisted he put his hand into blah blah blah ... suddenly he felt the "green hands" of the aliens touch him again ...

that's about it ...

Despite my lament over the take of the aliens, I would still recommend the film -- go watch it!

** Noteworthy, when the film was featured in San Francisco International Film Festival (as a "surprise" film), many audience walked out way before the film was over.

** Once again, I hope more people in the voting committee (for main stream awards) would recognize Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance and at least get him nominated ... winning is not the point ... but I think he should not be penalized simply because of a daring role in a daring film!

Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby howardschumann(d) » Sun Nov 20, 2005 4:58 pm

Whether or not you want to acknowledge it, UFO sightings and reports of being abducted are more than science fiction. They have been a very real phenomenon for over half a century, a phenomenon that includes millions of credible witnesses worldwide. While I think attributing the phenomenon to "aliens", is simplistic, the issue is and remains one of the abiding mysteries of our time. If you think it involves only a handful of unstable people, I suggest you do some reading in the area.

My only complaint is that the film implied that these experiences could be caused by a screen memory of sexual seduction. This has never been found to be the case.

Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby hengcs » Mon Nov 21, 2005 2:28 am

Let me paraphrase myself ... what I am trying to say is ... I wasn't prepared for an alien slant in the film ... just imagine if you go and watch "American Beauty" or "Million Dollar Baby" or "The Sea Inside" or "Les Choristes" and suddenly, you see aliens emerging in 1 or 2 segments for whatever plot or reason ... this was how I felt when I watched Mysterious Skin ... a bit weird

Anyway, fact or fiction has always been controversial ... that is what makes life so interesting ... it is like watching Chinese martial arts film ... some Westerners will simply dismiss it as fantasy and impossible (many do classify it under the genre FANTASY ... e.g., the notion of "inner strength" or "qi", or the notion of "flying" in the air, or the notion of "darting" on water (like the dragonfly), etc ... yet many Chinese do believe in them ...

Let me cite an example, in Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon, when the characters started "running up the wall", many audience laugh ... yet in Tom Yum Goong, the Thai (Tony Jaa) managed to "run up the glass wall" without wires or CGI ...

By the way, I am not against an alien take ... see what I wrote above again ... (I repaste them now in color)

In other words, this is what I feel/suggest: if we look at movies in the drama or sci-fi genre, there are many that are filmed that touches the audience (as opposed to them "disbelieving" or even "ridiculing" the protagonist).

I do NOT mind the director keeping the "alien belief" of the protagonist, but the obsession can be dealt with in a way most successful films did it (i.e., for a moment, we actually "believe" in the existence of aliens!) ... so that the entire movie can maintain a consistent style as well as a consistent mood ...

In essence, I was just trying to say if it has depicted aliens succesfully like the way E.T. did, I would have preferred it.

Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby howardschumann(d) » Mon Nov 21, 2005 3:01 am

I think we basically agree that the material could have been handled better. It was played for laughs rather than considered as a serious subject and the woman who had been abducted was depicted as being unstable.

Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby hengcs » Mon Nov 21, 2005 3:13 am


Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby wpqx » Wed Jan 03, 2007 4:16 am

Well sometimes it takes me awhile to see a film and this is one of those. I liked the film and found it a much more focused and unified effort compared to my previous Araki encounter (Doom Generation I saw centuries ago). I found nothing wrong with the alien encounters, and thought it was a positive coping mechanism that made perfect sense to me. At first I was a little suspicious of it, but it all came together in the end. Quite a damn good film, and Araki's vision works when its a little more subdued.

Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby bamboomedia1 » Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:16 am

I rented this movie a while ago and I fell in love with it. I really like dark/disturbing films but unlike some that shock just to shock this one was very moving as well. I was completely blown away by Joseph Gordon-Levitt like many of you. I hope he continues on this path with performances like this one and his turn in Brick. I have to say the Alien thing made sense to me and I thought it lent well to the story just like wpqx said. I had no idea when I rented this that it was the same guy that directed The Doom Generation. Im glad I didnt because I might not have rented it. All I have to say is that this effort is leaps and bounds above that one.

Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby peppajaa » Thu Mar 15, 2007 8:41 pm

Wasn't the alien slant the girl's way of explaining away her abuse? Did anybody else see the aliens? It's been awhile since I saw the film. . . .

Re: Mysterious Skin

Postby wpqx » Thu Mar 15, 2007 9:17 pm

I thought the aliens might have been an attention getting thing for the girl, but I may have read that wrong.

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