on 21 March 2007
The issue of child sexual abuse is an incredibly difficult one to broach, especially on the big screen - Gregg Araki manages to tell the story of these two young men from a dispassionate and sometime uncompromisingly detached perspective, whilst allowing the viewer to empathise with the two young men and the situation that they find themselves in.
This film is not for the faint hearted. Possibly the hardest scene to watch is where Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing a rent boy, is raped - and yet I felt that this scene truly brought to the fore, the incredible turmoil going on inside this youth - the source of his self-destructive behaviour.
Despite the controversial and emotive material that forms the backdrop for this film, the journey of healing that ultimately emerges in the closing scenes is heartwarming and hopeful.
I would highly recommend this film.
on 2 May 2006
This movie was far from being rubbish. I am not one to watch gory details when it comes to human life, but nor I'm I able to watch mind-numbing boring and easy movies either. The summary got me, and I had to rent it. This movie dealt with a lot more than more or any gay themed movies can ever imagine. It was heart felt, shocking, scary and damn right vomit worthy at times. But all that brought in such a powerful storyline. We always get hit with political stories in movies, especially when it deals with aids or rape. But this movie dealt with how two people suffered the same incident but how different they were as people and how differently they took the incident.
A fan of the movie, and will be off the book once I get around to buying it. The warnings are all there, if you still pick it up and don't like it, don't blame it on the theme.
on 6 October 2005
I have never rated Greg Araki but this film changed my mind. A truly brave and bold adaptation of the wondeful novel by Scott Heim which never fails to capture the fragile poetry and lyricism of the book. Despite the dark subject matter, the film is never po-faced and humour is used skilfully and humanely. Two young boys are sexually abused by their school football coach. As young adults, each deals with the abuse in their own different way until both reach a mutual crisis and are propelled towards a dramatic and moving conclusion. The film was criticised on the grounds that it suggests that one of the characters enjoyed being abused as a child - nonsense. The film never doubts for one moment that both characters were damaged by their experiences with coach. Have these critics never heard of the concept of denial? Anybody who knows anything about child abuse knows that children often go back to the abuser again and again - usually because the adult makes them feel special. For all our liberal values, society is still very much in denial about the whole subject of child abuse and childhood sexuality. We are much more comfortable thinking about the evil paedophile bogyman (The Woodsman), than facing the reality that most adults who abuse children are people kids look up to and respect - fathers, mothers, brothers, uncles, aunties etc. Where many would rather run away from this subject and not talk about it, this film meets it head on, if you forgive the pun. Without doubt the best film of 2005. You must see this film.
on 1 November 2005
I first read the book by Scott Heim about 3 years ago and it was the most incredible book I have ever read. It still is, no matter how many times I read it.
When I heard they were making a film version I was apprehensive, I couldn't see how they could do the book justice. I was however genuinely surprised by how beautifully it was done. This film does not shy away from the dark aspects of the book and although at times it is hard to watch, you cannot take your eyes off the screen. The acting is incredible, particularly Joseph Gordon Levitt who becomes almost unrecognisable in his role as Neil.
I watched this film with a friend who had never read the book and had no idea what to expect. By the time we left the cinema he was very uncomfortable and had spent much of the time looking away from the screen. My best mate and I however had read the book first and knew what to expect. It is a really hard film to watch as there are a few disturbing scenes, but this is what makes the film so brave, you cannot have a film about the effects of child abuse and not show the horror it involves.
A hard film to watch, but one of my all time favourites.
If you haven't read the book, read it! Scott Heim should know how powerful his book is, there is no other book like it out there.
on 29 July 2006
Creepy pedos in baseball-playing, mom-loving, apple pie-eating small town America? You bet. And because it is devoid of an "after school special" sentimentality or Spielberg gloss, it feels that more chilling and bold and real.
An uncomfortable film to watch, but resonant for me as someone who grew up gay in 1980s Kansas. Details like the Little League games, the Halloween spook house and the shady characters cruising the park were all spot on, although I doubt the film will be championed by the Kansas Travel & Tourism Division.
I've not read Scott Heim's book on which this film is based, but on reading his background you realise each of the youths in the film is a manifestation of himself. He claims to have seen a UFO with his family, excelled in school and lived with his single mom after a divorce (like Brian), he announced baseball games (like Neil) and his infatuation with cosmetics and British goth pop made him the subject of death threats (like Eric).
Altogether that means there's a lot of truth to what's being depicted, no matter how dangerous or taboo some may consider the subject matter. I think Araki should be praised for making a mockery of the American movie ratings by filming such an explicit movie that doesn't show a thing. I've seen European art-house films with twice as much flesh which were half as frank. I think what disturbs people most is there is no moralising, no revenge and no happy ending where learning the truth frees the tortured characters from their shattered lives.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the stand-out from the cast, with Michelle Trachtenberg failing to bring any weight to the film's more poignant scenes because her dialogue was too 'writerly' (saying things that people may think but rarely voice).
I was disappointed that the film was not filmed in Kansas, but they did an excellent job finding places in California which were strikingly similar.
on 21 November 2005
No point in re-writing the synopsis, just see above… This film is one of the most powerful and stunning films I’ve seen in some time. What I found interesting about the film was the way the main character (played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) believed himself to be unaffected by the abuse he suffered, yet as time goes by, you can see the damage that has been done (after-all – he is a rent boy!), he has shut down his emotions, but he begins to understand more when he meets Brian and realises the damage done to him. Powerful stuff and not for the faint hearted. This really is an extraordinary film, and I haven’t previously been impressed by the films of Araki.
on 4 April 2006
Two boys who were abused by the same baseball coach grow up dealing with their past (or not) in different ways; one becomes a rent-boy, the other a believer in alien abduction. One of America's most underrated directors returns to brilliant form in this grim but virtually flawless film. It starts with some tense scenes of paedophilia and moves on to emotionally painful scenes with the boys as 15 year-olds troubled by what happened. By this point you're hooked enough to stay with the characters for the next hour, before the gruesome truth is revealed in a queasy finalé. Superbly horrible without actually being a horror film, though the frequent references to horror films perhaps betray Araki's true intentions.
on 10 February 2007
This film deals with a very tricky subject unbelievably well. I was worried before I watched this film that it might have been too bleak or hard to watch but from the first line I was compelled to watch.
The performances are amazing. Joseph Gordon Levitt is incredible ( a big shock for me, a 3rd Rock from the Sun fan!) Chase Ellison, who plays the young Neil, is quite possibly the best child actor I have ever saw.
I saw this film over 2 weeks ago and I am still thinking about it. I would recommend this film to everyone.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way. In 1998 his biggest claim to fame was an ice-skate in the face courtesy of Michael Myers. Nowadays, however, he's one of the most promising acting talents around. Truly, Gordon-Levitt's performance as a teenage hustler who was abused as a child remains one of the most stunning in recent memory and is one of the factors that makes "Mysterious Skin" such an encapsulating viewing experience, even if it never amounts to anything comfortable. 2005's "Mysterious Skin" doesn't offer any pat resolutions to its troubled main characters, nor does is shy away from some of the grim realities of modern day society. Overall, this is an astonishingly frank, uncompromising motion picture that will surely prove to divide audiences in the future and present day for its impromptu method of handling its numerous, interlocking plot elements. Even if, in the end, the movie becomes surprisingly predictable it can never be accused of being anything less than poignant.
"Mysterious Skin" details the diverse life of two individuals whose lives are intertwined with each other for reasons unknown. One, Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is a teenage street hustler willing to do anything sexual for money. Neil himself was abused as a child but, unlike most abused children, actually enjoyed the sexual abuse he received at the hands of his little league coach (Bill Sage). Neil savours attention, part of why he allowed for the sexual relationship with that grown man to go on and why he now sells himself as an adolescent. The other teenager in question is Brian (Brady Corbett), a boy of the same age as Neil who is obsessed with aliens and stories of alien abductions. Brian himself believes that he and his family were visited and abducted by aliens during his childhood and has bizarre dreams involving grey aliens that he believes are helping him to piece together what happened to him and his relatives. Granted, these two individual stories are immensely different but focus upon one general story aspect of "Mysterious Skin". That being childhood trauma which manifests into a feeling of disconnection as both Neil and Brian's lives go on despite the best efforts of their friends and family to succeed in some kind of intervention.
As mentioned earlier in this review, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has now emerged as one of the most talented actors of his generation. Gordon-Levitt is easily able to convey realistic emotion and character depth in an incredibly naturalistic way, making any of the characters he plays' plight all the more gripping and riveting. Such is the case on this occasion too. The fact of the matter is Gordon-Levitt's performance in this is his best performance thus far in his career. As Brian, an incredibly geeky asexual obsessed with the idea that he was once visited by extra-terrestrial lifeforms Brady Corbett is perfectly cast. Corbett is fittingly awkward and detached, making his character arc all-the-more interesting as it becomes apparent that there might be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for his character.
The supporting players aren't quite as good as the two leads. There are numerous reasons for this, with amateurness not being one of them. The roles outside of the two main characters aren't multi-layered and are there simply as observers. That doesn't mean the people playing them don't warrant mention. As Neil's concerned friends Wendy and Eric, Michelle Trachtenberg and Jeff Licon are a joy to watch whenever on the screen. As Avalyn, a stranger that Brian meets after seeing her claims of being abducted by aliens on a documentary show, Mary Lynn Rajskub is just as awkward as Brady Corbett, fantastically cast in a potential love interest role as the equally geeky loner. Elsewhere, Elisabeth Shue is great as Neil's emotionally disconnected mother and Bill Sage is fittingly detestable as Neil's paedophile coach.
What is perhaps best about "Mysterious Skin" is how uncompromising an experience it is. Unlike many hollywood motion pictures of purportedly similar context, this great independent drama isn't content with providing its characters with easy resolutions and answers to their respective questions. Instead, "Mysterious Skin" embraces grim reality. Neil's move to New York City from the small Nevada town wherein most of the action takes place is treated in a decidedly tough way. Neil hopes to go legit in his new surroundings, but such hopes and expectations are dashed when more lecherous men step in to take advantage of Neil's vulnerability and naivety. Brian's character arc isn't any less bleak either, with any hopes of him leading a normal life seemingly long gone out the window. Brian has been consumed by his nightmares and childhood trauma, and finding out the answers to his questions doesn't seem like much of a resolution at all.
Intermittently, there are spatterings of comedy as well. This doesn't serve to make "Mysterious Skin" any less dark and bleak, however. The infrequent humour works, without doubt, but director Gregg Araki doesn't resort to cowardice and use the humour to make light of the serious plot at the core of the movie, instead the comedy serves only to bring into focus the seriousness of the situation, elliciting laughter from the audience only when it wished to and only when it may warrant it. Other than that, "Mysterious Skin" is dead serious.
It is rare that one comes across a movie like "Mysterious Skin" in modern day cinema. Most cinematic offerings of this proported kind are either emotionally bankrupt wastes of time or concern themselves with unsavoury and too convenient resolutions. That things don't turn out brilliantly for the characters in this movie shows that Araki, who also wrote the screenplay based upon Scott Heim's novel, respects his audience and isn't nearly content with cheating them out of a fitting climax, nor a collective effort. Such respect and fairness towards an audience is exceedingly rare nowadays, which only makes one appreciate "Mysterious Skin" even more for what it is.
Though not as good as the similarly quixotic "Donnie Darko", "Mysterious Skin" is an enigmatic puzzle of a motion picture that nevertheless refuses to put all the pieces in place for the audience. Where the story leads is left for the audience to discover for themselves and what the future holds for the diverse characters on whom "Mysterious Skin" has narrowed its focus is anybody's guess. That things aren't wrapped up in a neat little package is an unexpected delight and ultimately ensures that the movie sticks in your head long after the end credits have rolled.
"Mysterious Skin" is an unconventional and bleak look at the human psyche. Absent of pat conclusions and one-dimensional characters, "Mysterious Skin" is a multi-layered drama unlike any other film that you're ever likely to witness. This movie deserves to be recognised for what it is, an extremely good motion picture bordering on being an absolute masterpiece. To avoid seeing this fantastic movie would truly be a crime.
on 14 August 2009
I did not know what to expect when I rented this film, I thought it would just be another arthouse-style coming of age drama. It turned out to be a very intense and often very uncomfortable viewing that made me squirm in my seat at times. But one I wouldn't have missed for the world.
One of the very first scenes sets the tone: an 8-year old boy, Neill, is masturbating while watching his mom and her new boyfriend making out in the backyard. He is not watching his mom, he is watching the boyfriend. It is clear that this pre-teen boy is already sexually aware and also that he is gay. This is the first major way in which this film differs from other films, that shy away from the topic of pre-teen sexuality. Never have I seen this topic addressed before in such a straightforward, open way (or in any other way, now I come to think of it).
The second point in which this film differs is the handling of the difficult topic of child abuse. The boy, Neill, also has a crush on his baseball coach and, at first, clearly loves the "special attention" he gets from this grown man. Even when this attention turns into something sexual. To dare to show the well-known fact that abuse victims can, at least at first, enjoy the attention they're getting from a paedophile is very bold to say the least. There's a very fine line between condoning child abuse and showing it as it is. That line is never crossed, because all too soon it becomes painfully obvious that Neill has been very emotionally damaged by his coaches attentions. As a teenager, Neill (a natural, brave performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, wearing blue contacts that give him an innocent yet strangely edgy look) keeps looking for the "love" he thinks he had with his coach by sleeping with older men for cash. But in doing so he goes way too far for his own good, which eventually leads up to a gruesome rape scene. This boy may think he had something wonderful with his coach, but he clearly is damaged and geared in self-destruct mode.
The other victim, a shy and nerdy boy named Brian (Brady Corbet), has from the moment it happened been unable to cope with the abuse. He has surpressed every memory of it and still endures blackouts and nosebleeds. He has strange nightmares and therefore thinks he's been abducted by aliens. All his spare time is spent on trying to find out what happened during those lost hours, he has no friends or much of a life besides chasing his memories. Again, the damage done by child abuse is showed very effectively, as well as the totally different ways the two boys try to cope with it (self-destruction and total denial)
When the boys finally meet again the true horror of what happened to them is revealed in shocking detail. Nothing is cleaned-up or sanitized here. It is told the way it is, and child abuse is horrific. Thankfully, no easy solutions are given at the end. One can only hope that Neill, after having been raped, will not go back to his destructive rentboy lifestyle. And that Brian can finally get some rest from chasing his childhood and start to focus on his future.
In no way can this film be judged for condoning child abuse, people who have made such statements clearly have not understood or possibly even seen the film. On the contrary, this film shows the effects of abuse in a very open and un-sugarcoated way that is very real and therefore hard to swallow. Yet, somehow, this film is not all sadness and horror. There are many surprisingly tender and poetic moments, beautifully acted out by the talented young cast.
Definitely not a film for the faint-hearted, as there is some strong (mostly suggested) sexual violence. But if you can handle the subject matter and the honest way it is portrayed then this is a very gripping, gritty and poetic drama. This one will definitely stay with you and make you think, and isn't that what good films are all about?