Directed by: Gregg Araki
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Tratchenberg, Elisabeth Shue
In a scene where Wendy (Michelle Tratchenberg) leaves Hutchinson, Kansan, she sincerely tells her friend Eric (Jeff Licon) about Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), “Once I’m gone, you’ll be all Neil has and you have to understand one thing. Where normal people have a heart, Neil McCormick has a bottomless black hole. And if you don’t watch out, you can fall in and get lost forever.” Wendy has known Neil since they were young, since they were exposed to all the blind cruelties of the world. Neil, at an early age, has been molested and has been injected with false truths about life. He has grown up to become unaware of his own emotions, allowing his body to get used and abused. His ideologies are so skewed that his heart has become void, and Wendy knows that he is indeed lost in his own soul.
"Mysterious Skin" by Gregg Araki based on the novel by Scott Heim, follows the tragic life of Neil McCormick, How do we affect people, how do people affect us and how does this shape us? These are the questions that haunt all of us. Early in the film, we become aware that Neil has been molested by his Baseball coach. Throughout his teenage years, his thought have been tainted, being a hustler at the local park, thinking that this lifestyle fills his human void. He travels from one room to another, unable to feel and unable to realize the horrors of these predicaments. When Neil was young, he played baseball with Brian, an innocent boy with frames encompassing the majority of his face. An incident occurs where Brian’s nose started to bleed. In the film’s opening, we see him locked in a closet, narrating that for about four hours, he blacked out and forgot everything. As he grows up, these hours keep haunting him.
Throughout the entirity of the movie, we follow how Neil affects people and how Brian is affected by people. In one of the most powerful cinematic conclusions, we learn about the four hours Brian couldn’t remember. Neil tells him the story of what happened, and Brian is able to realize why those moments continuously haunted him. The film is very controversial and will raise a lot of brows due to the content of the movie. Especially in the first scenes, we feel uncomfortable. But once you get passed that scene, you understand why the following scenes happen. Gregg Araki’s adaptation is a powerful and thought-provoking cinematic experience.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a breakthrough performance that’s almost reminiscent of Leonardo Dicaprio’s in Marvin’s Room. It’s raw, it’s intense and it’s gritty. We get to witness the evolution of an actor. He blazes through the screen with genuine angst. Beneath this, we feel the darkness and depression he no longer has the ability to pay attention to. His storytelling abilities through his actions and eyes are beyond commendable. “Mysterious Skin” is for the brave, it’s for those who seek truth like Brian and Neil. It’s not a film every one can sit through. It’s a film that wants to tell an often untold story and it does it so well.
*** (3 Stars)