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Movie Review: Mysterious Skin

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"I dunno, I mean, in Mysterious Skin I guess you could call him gay, but his sexuality is this unique damaged thing." -Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It's been a while since Mysterious Skin (2004) opened theatrically, and the "Deluxe Unrated Director's Edition" DVD was released a year ago.

A lot of reviews described the discomfort, brutality, and gritty experience that Gregg Araki's film, based on a cult novel by Scott Heim, embodied in its conscious and relentless dramatization. The plot revolves around two young men who suffered an abuse episode when they were just eight years old. One of them tells us: "Five hours disappeared from my life. Five hours, lost, gone without a trace…"

Brian Lackey (Brady Corbet), the blond nerdy guy who wears glasses and reads alien invasion strip comics, lives in Hutchinson, Kansas, and is haunted by nightmares, which lead him to believe the origin of his nightly fears and nosebleeds is an alien abduction. The other guy, Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is absent-minded and spunky, despite the fact he makes a living selling his body for money to middle-aged locals without any trace of remorse.

We flash back to June of 1981, when Neil's mom  Ellen (Elisabeth Shue) leaves him in the care of a Little League trainer, the disturbing Coach Heider (Bill Sage), to hang out with her boyfriend of the moment, Alfred, and to avoid having to pay a babysitter.

Neil is sexually precocious, having learned much from reading his mother's Playgirl magazines and spying her having fun with her "Marlboro Man"-type lovers. So the lifestyle of a nonchalant gay hustler seems to be the inevitable for Neil, who kills time with a homosexual friend Eric (Jeff Licon) joking at the expense of the rednecks around Hutchinson. Although, as Neil's soulmate Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) says to him in an effort to protect him, "Even Hutchinson has its share of freaks".

"I met Wendy Peterson when I was ten. If I wasn't queer we would have ended up having sloppy teenage sex and getting pregnant, contributing more fucked-up unwanted kids to society. But instead, she became my soul mate", Neil confess to us through a voice-over during a Halloween children's party. Neil mocks her warnings and concern, but later, when she moves to New York and invites Neil to go visit her, he will unexpectedly encounter one of his tricks.

After Brian's searching for answers to his dysfunctional life, meeting another victim of "abduction," Avalyn from Inman, Kansas (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and finally contacting Neil's mother and Eric, we see some parallels between Mrs. Lackey (Lisa Long) and Mrs. McCormick, so different on the surface, but both separated from Brian's and Neil's respective fathers. Each one educated her boy in an equally ineffective way. There are also powerful shots, such as the one with Fruit Loops falling on Neil's head as a kid and later snowflakes over his adult head, which help us to recognize the artificially sugary sexual world that dominates our culture.

From an insect-like perspective, which Richard Feynman described when speaking metaphorically about a universe with more than four dimensions, both Brian and Neil were like a pair of water bugs floating over an inconstant lake, both born there (a decade ago), and  destined to die (like the aquatic bugs) in these contaminated waters.

Their perspective is confined to the two dimensions of the lake on which they have learned to survive (and numb themselves). They can't exist beneath the surface where the fishes live, nor can they soar among the birds above.

So how do these water skimmers react when a rock is thrown into the lake? Thrown to the geek and the sexy hustler (and extending to all of their kin, for that matter), as if they are cast out the surface of the lake for the very first time, they begin to see, as never before, that there is a whole way of thinking about the surface of the lake that they never understood. This is the insectile perspective embedded in Mysterious Skin's story, in the crucial instant Neil and Brian begin to understand and share the real mutation they were both subjected to.

And how could we forget such a heart-wrenching scene, in middle of this insalubrious lurid trip as when Neil and Wendy see themselves in front of a blank screen, outside a drive-in theater. She wishes they were watching a film about everything that's happened so far. "And the last scene would just be us standing right here. Just you and me."

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About Kendrac

I'm a Catalonian freelance writer, poetress and film critic. My favourite genre is Noir. My real name is Elena Gonzalvo.