There are stories that can inspire, introduce, and even make you rethink issues that may not have much cause for thought in day to day life. Then there are the few films in life that can actually change your perspective with the world as well as your own personal relationship with it. For me Mysterious Skin is one such example that affected my life in this way. Although I had previously mentioned the emotional connectivity that I shared with films like Lorenzo’s Oil and Fearless, Skin came at a point in my childhood when I needed some very personal guidance and eventually emotional clarity. The story follows the tale of two young boys who are both sexually abused by their little league baseball coach in early 1980’s Kansas. One of the boys has grown up to become a male hustler, the other is convinced that his repressed memories of said events was caused by alien abduction. Eventually both characters (now in their early 20’s) meet in their hometown and attempt to help each other come to terms with their loss of innocence.
The emotional powerhouse that is the narrative of Skin is told exceptionally well, perhaps due to the original book’s author, Scott Heim, having a very close collaborative relationship with screen-writer/director Gregg Araki. Both men have managed to inject their personal passion and love into the script but to just give them all the credit would be totally unfair. This was the film that captivated my interest with the career of Joseph Gordon Levitt….as well as a bit of an overlong teenage crush. Sadly his co-star Brady Corbet has not enjoyed the same amount of international success that Levitt was blessed with (most likely due to “500 Days of Summer“, “Looper” and now “TDKR”) but to label Levitt as the main star would be completely wrong. Both actors are witnesses and victims to the horrific events in their early lives and we as an audience follow both of their childhoods in the aftermath. Neil McCormick (Levitt) begins to have more and more dangerous meets with seedy adults who pay him for sex, whilst Brian Lackey (Corbet) is on a hell-bent mission to investigate what he believes was his own personal alien abduction.
Both characters have intriguing arcs; one could argue McCormick’s is the most dramatic, and anyone making such a statement could possibly be right; many of the sex scenes in the film are incredibly haunting and at times excruciating to watch. However, in my opinion, Lackey’s quest to rediscover his past is the much more touching story in the screenplay. His family is broken down, leaving his mother almost disillusioned after her divorce (at least in McCormick’s family the mother is a happy and content individual, although completely unaware of her son’s sexual activities), his father showed no emotional care for him during his childhood and his friends circle consists of only a fellow supposed abductees who begins to stalk him. Brady’s crusade for the truth, in a sense, is just as much a search for self-discovery for his mother as it is for himself. The time vested in establishing how both characters families operate is intriguing to watch and is assisted by not having the cop-out of both families knowing each other or eventually meeting at some point in the narrative.
Mysterious Skin is a beautiful film in every aspect of its production: The score composed by Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie is truly inspired and was a wonderful introduction into the world of ambiance music, which I have since taken to with great delight over the years, especially with Budd’s work. The performance of the pedophile coach from Bill Sage is phenomenally memorable, this is made even more impressive when you realize he only has roughly ten minutes of screen time in the whole feature! The sequences between himself and the younger Neil McCormick are some of the most truly haunting moments in any film that you’ll come across, all helped by Sage’s enticing performance. Michelle Tractenberg gives a strong supporting role presence but also becomes a weight for the reality of the narrative, assisting us as an audience to not get swept away in the drama of the main characters. It’ll be hard not to though as a story about seeking identity and long lost friendship is something all of us think about at least some point in our lives. Mysterious Skin is just one of those films where everyone is more honest about it.