June 6, 2011

Mysterious Skin (2004)

Directed by Gregg Araki

It all starts and ends with a little league’s pedophile coach and two kids: Neil and Brian, who unbeknownst to their parents are the victims of a sexual predator. But what is the authentic aftermath of this encounter between the man and the 8-year-old children?The repercussions of sexual abuse will affect greatly the lives of Neil and Brian, but in so many different ways that one could almost wonder if they shared the same experience. As a matter of fact, being sexually abused is such a traumatic event for Brian that he blocks it out of his mind unable to cope with the real, and he then proceeds to fill in the memory gaps with a fantasy of alien abduction. Recurring to such self-defense mechanisms is quite a normal psychological strategy, but it also mingles well with a recurring theme in Araki’s cinematography.

Neil, on the other hand, fills in the gashing void with an idealized image of the pedophile. After all, during an entire summer the two of them spend many nights together. Neil actually functions as an accomplice, helping the coach to lure in unsuspecting boys, thus creating a perverse bond between them. Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishes of the novel is to invert the roles, creating a pedophile that seems to be nicer and more caring than the boys’ parents, while at the same time embedding at least one of the victims with an attitude that one would find difficult to sympathize with. Araki’s film, of course, thrives because of that: the complexity between the characters relationships. This is not, after all, a lesson of morality. Here the coach leaves the town, with an untarnished reputation, and leaves behind Neil, a very obsessed boy who admits later that “it's a huge part of me. No one ever made me feel that way before or since [...] I was his one true love”.

Perversion seems to be the one predominant constant throughout Neil’s life, but as Lacan would define it, a perverse individual is the one who assumes the position of the object-instrument of the "will-to-enjoy" (volonté-de-jouissance), which is not his own will but that of the big Other. In this case, Neil accepts to serve as a garish tool of pleasure for the coach, and years later, as a teenage hustler, he has no quandaries when it is his turn to be the instrument of joy of the other (namely his clients). Emotionally detached from everyone, only a girl, a friend from childhood, remains as his one and true humane anchor. His mother, after all, has always been a carefree woman, constantly hooking up with men, and paying no attention to his son; that’s why when Neil is about to depart to New York, she looks at him and utters “my baby, all grown up”, not as a typical motherly affirmation but rather a discovery: time flew by, and she wasn’t there at all.

Brian’s dreams are a reminder that another boy was with him the night of the alien abduction, consequently the insecure boy starts the search for Neil, and learns of his whereabouts just after Neil has left for the big city. It is then that Neil’s friend, Eric, a very flamboyant gay kid, befriends him. Brian is quite a timid and introversive teenager, perhaps as a result of having a very dominant mother and an absent father (even before he abandons the family, he was only there to state how disappointed he was at his son). Eric describes him as "weirdly asexual" (even without knowing how Brian had violently rejected a UFO obsessed woman that intended to caress his penis); indeed, Brian is unable to reclaim sexuality for himself, and after having always lived in a world of his own he finds in Eric’s friendship everything he needs to break out of his shelf.

As a male prostitute, Neil finds the horror of the real in New York, and he will soon realize how dangerous his line of business can get. Back in town, Eric is preparing himself to let go of the one reality that has sustained and nurtured his psyche, but can he embrace the real if Neil tells him exactly what happened that fatidic night?  

Araki brilliantly depicts this honest, heart-wrenching and unruly story, taking advantage of the exceptional acting qualities of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Neil), a daring and talented actor that has worked in many interesting independent films, such as Brick, The Lookout or Latter Days (a gay themed movie). This actor finds in Brady Corbet (Brian) the ideal partner; Corbet creates a subtle but fascinating character, completely different from his roles in Funny Games US or Thirteen, proving not only that he is a great actor but that he also knows how to choose the best directors to work with.

And that's why Mysterious Skin makes it into my top 100 films. I highly recommend it.

And by the way, I'm glad to see that every month my blog gets more visits. Cheers!

Fiel a los principios de Coherencia, mi rechazo por la candidata a la presidencia prevaleció. Ni siquiera haber perdido casi dos mil dólares en la bolsa de valores de Lima logró disuadirme. Aunque, por supuesto, como decía Fernando De Szyszlo en relación al otro candidato, a ese tampoco le creo. 

Así que decidí hacer lo único sensato, o sea contribuir con las arcas fiscales. Con la multa evito la votación, y me ahorro esa sensación horrible de tener que elegir a un mal menor (y honestamente, nunca he tenido la línea Sartriana de Mario Vargas Llosa que le permite hacer justamente eso, elegir una de las dos opciones, a pesar de todo).

Las pérdidas también me han hecho ver que algunos ajustes son necesarios, al menos por ahora. Así, por ejemplo, he cancelado mis tarjetas de crédito, todas menos una. Así que adiós a tarjetas con límites de 5000 soles (como la del BBVA que siempre me sacó de apuros) y cosas por el estilo. Para bien o para mal, este domingo ha sido elegido el próximo mandatario del país.


  1. Arión, espero que para ti sean días de esperanza. La caída bursátil se veía venir pero date cuenta que la situación era insostenible, ojalá pronto surjan brotes verdes en el Perú. Reza al dios Abraxas, al dios de la balanza de Demian (Herman Hesse) y que esas pérdidas monetarias te sean recuperadas con ilusión por tus dibujos, tus cosas, tu país, tus películas... Ánimo que no hay mal que cien años dure. Un abrazo. R

  2. Muchas gracias por tu mensaje, realmente me ha hecho sentir que aunque mi primera tentación sea reaccionar negativamente, es más útil afrontar los hechos con optimismo. Efectivamente, la caída se veía venir, y por eso me retiré de la bolsa más o menos a tiempo, aunque no pude evitar algunas pérdidas. Siempre he sido fan de Hesse, y de Demian en particular.
    Y por supuesto yo seguiré en lo mío. Escribiendo y dibujando cómics para THE GATHERING. Espero que sigas visitando el blog.

  3. Well done Arion. All we need is hope. Listen, I would like to share an experience with you, something that has lots to do with my reading of Mysterious Skin. One day I assisted to a conference about the needs of establishing a new agreed ethical argument to cover the globalisation of sexualities. So far, so good. The lecture went all its way to say that globalisation is good when it brings the best of cultures together, and it was demonised when it invites the need of unnecessary goods into our lives. “French cuisine in Bangkok is good; a lady’s need of a Gucci handbag in Delhi is bad”. Poor examples perhaps but the full meaning is there. When it came to sexualities the lecturer explained that it is unethical nowadays to conform to consensuality as it could be the case that a prostitute [sic] was initially led by need. Therefore it may not be a free decision. To me, this begged the questions: How free are we to decide our lives and careers? How could we ethically imply everyone to remap sexual tourism? Then, what about the design of a global ethics that covered children’s sexualities without false moralities? I was told that we were not there to discuss paedophilia (!!!). I was so horrified that I stupidly gave up. I was quite far from defending/arguing children’s sexualities from an adult point of view (post-structuralism) but the need of pedagogues for a common ethical approach to sexual education covering children's real needs.
    Both characters in the film are so different in the way they deliver emotions that I would find impossible to cover that education/healing/preparedness for adult life. The emotional needs from one –let’s not get into father’s role need- are non-existent for the other. There is where there are both screwed up. This is a wonderful film to trigger a serious discussion about how much we/our society patronise children and then moan about our intellectually and emotionally immature teenagers (UFOs in the film). Furthermore if anyone likes these ethical/moral dilemmas there is a wonderful Italian film called "Pianese Nunzio, 14 Anni A Maggio". It covers power, sex and religion for the spectator to make up their mind.
    Love your posts. Take care and please keep on going. R.

  4. Espero que se puedan recuperar rápido. Como un sólo pueblo unido, duele ver que los hermanos estén pasando mala racha (aunque nosotros no estamos muy bien que digamos).

  5. Rimanlo, I wonder what was the theory approach in that lecturer...
    Anyway, as usual, discussing sexuality can be a very delicate if not controversial task.
    You have very interesting observations regarding Musterious Skin, and I'll make sure to try to watch the Italian film you mention.
    Thank you again for taking the time to write.

  6. César: Muchas gracias por el mensaje. Supongo que siempre hay problemas aquí o en cualquier otro país, en todo caso espero las cosas se estabilicen dentro de poco.

  7. Gracias a ti y a Rimanlo por los comentarios sobre esa película que me fascinó cuando la vi. Siempre tuve debilidad por Joseph Gordon-Levitt, pero en esta película en especial está adorable, en un papel realmente difícil.
    Te apoyo en lo de la votación, yo lo que hago es anular mi voto, rompiendo la hoja de votación o algo así. Ya pasaron mis tiempos de izquierdista, ya todos aquellos viejos sueños de un gobierno popular quedaron en nada, ya no tengo a quién votar.
    Tu nuevo presidente estuvo por acá en estos días.
    Un abrazo, muchachón!

  8. Parece que todos aquí somos fans de Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Siempre actúa bien pero en esta película se luce.
    ¿Qué opinas de mis dibujos a lapicero que he estado incluyendo en los últimos posts?