Though the subject matter of Mysterious Skin is as sensational as that of Gregg Araki's other films (such as Totally F***ked Up, The Doom Generation, or The Living End), his direction is richer and more multilayered than e... more »ver before. Two Kansas teenagers named Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 10 Things I Hate About You) and Brian (Brady Corbett, Thirteen) share a childhood trauma--but their responses are radically different: Neil hustles tricks, while Brady, who can't remember what happened, believes he was abducted by aliens and left with "missing time." As both try to make sense of their lives and Brian struggles to find out the truth, Mysterious Skin builds to an emotional pitch that some viewers will find uncomfortable and others will find liberating. The characters of Neil and Brian have a fullness that lifts Mysterious Skin above most examinations of sexual abuse and trauma. Gordon-Levitt has been deservedly praised by the critics, but the entire cast--which also includes Bill Sage (Simple Men), Elizabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas), Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Mary Lynn Rajskub (24)--turns in superb performances. A striking and powerful movie. --Bret Fetzer« less
Barbara W. from MANCHESTER, NH Reviewed on 10/23/2011...
Definitely not a 'fun' film but very good.
Powerful, Great Film
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 06/20/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Mysterious Skin", directed by Gregg Araki, based on a book by Scott Heim, is a very powerful, well-made film with two very good central performances. However, it is a film not everyone will like or be able to sit through.
Brian (Brady Corbet), a bookish young man who has just started to go to Hutchison Community College, is convinced that he was abducted by Aliens one night eleven years ago. On that night, five hours disappeared from his life after his little league game and he woke up in the cellar of his house with a bleeding nose. Neil (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is very aware, very early, that he is gay and at fifteen becomes a hustler, meeting johns in a local city park in Hutchison. When he turns nineteen, he travels to New York to stay with his best friend, Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) and starts to turn tricks there. Just as Neil leaves, Brian realizes that they may have a connection, a connection to the night where he lost five hours of his life.
"Mysterious Skin", adapted from the book and directed by Araki, deals with some very adult issues. If you do the math, you'll realize that the important night that effected both of their lives happened when they were eight years old and, without revealing too much of the story, the events were of a sexual nature. Throughout Neil's life, sex is a major factor; sex is pretty much what he is. Because of these story elements, there are sexual encounters presented in the film. But Araki presents these in such a way that they are dramatic points in the story. They are clearly not meant to titillate, they are about as unarousing as watching a married couple drink coffee and read separate sections of the newspaper, but meant to illustrate points in a dramatic story, as a way to inform. During the sexual encounters, the point of view switches, almost exclusively to that of Neil or Brian. We only see the other participant when they might be seen by Neil or Brian, to see what is happening to them. The sexual acts are not pornographic, but suggestive enough that you will get the whole picture, from watching the images presented. This extremely effective method of presenting these sexual acts allows us to see how they change the two young men throughout their life.
Joseph Gordon - Levitt (TV's "Third Rock from the Sun") plays Neil and here is no way we could have ever guessed that he was capable of creating such a believable, indelible character. There is quite a bit of voiceover, particularly in the beginning scenes, when the two boys are eight, as each is relating the events of that summer. As we listen to Neil, there is emptiness in his voice, a harshness which seems real. As we learn more about Neil and watch him interact with others, this becomes all the more resonant. He is this person. Watching him, we completely "get" who he is, what he is, how he became that. His interactions with his mother (Elisabeth Shue) are also very believable. They are more like friends, showing us the absence of a strong paternal figure in his life. She is more interested in living her own life, having fun, meeting new boyfriends, too busy to be that concerned about her son, needing him when she is feeling down. She doesn't want him to be upset with her. And he loves her for her camaraderie. Because there is a lack of parental involvement, he runs around, finding johns, hanging out with friends, coming in at all hours. It is a powerful performance, utterly believable.
Neil's relationship with Wendy is also mesmerizing. Wendy meets Neil at an early age and they stick together throughout their lives, becoming his best friend, confidant and critic. She loves him, but recognizes his faults, and tries to protect others from becoming hurt. Michelle Trachtenberg does a great job of making this character come to life.
Brady Corbert is equally memorable as Brian. The flip side of Neil, Brian is quiet, introspective, possessed with finding out what happened on that night. This one night has essentially shaped his entire life. He doesn't seem to have many friends, because he is confused. He lives with his mother (Lisa Long), a slightly more modern suburbanite. She is the sole bread winner in the family after her husband (Chris Mulkey) leaves, but also willing to say things like "Let's hold off on talking about that until we have a piece of Peanut Butter Peach Pie that I made." As he travels closer to understanding, he suspects that he was abducted by aliens and finds a kindred spirit in Avalyn (Mary Lynn Rajskub, TV's "24"), the subject of a television show about alien abduction. What all of these elements do is paint a convincing, accurate picture of a confused teenager. As he reaches the conclusion about those missing five hours, we get a sense that he may have suspected the truth all along, he simply needed confirmation. The final scene, in which he learns the truth, is extremely powerful and convincing.
The performances are both great and can be excused of a couple of overly theatrical moments; both characters have at least one instance where they suddenly burst out shouting.
Araki has fashioned such a believable world, an environment in which all of these events could, and probably do happen. It is a powerful, moving, very effective film with some sequences that are very sexually suggestive.
"Mysterious Skin" is a film that will stay with me for a long time. "
MICHAEL ACUNA | Southern California United States | 06/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The devastating, far-reaching effects of child abuse are microscopically examined in Gregg Araki's sensitive, well-produced and beautifully acted "Mysterious Skin." Araki has been making films for a number of years and his previous efforts ("The Living End," "The Doom Generation" to name a couple) have been high on style but short on technical finesse. But with "Mysterious Skin," Araki comes into his own artistically: the film is a dynamo of expressive, persuasive acting and top shelf production values. Gone is the jerky, amateurish camera work and editing but remaining is Araki's sensitive worldview and just out-of-kilter morality. There is no doubt here in which court Araki's allegiance and sympathy lays but he's enough of an artist and straight-shooter to show us both sides of this story: child molester Coach (Bill Sage) is presented, not as a monster (i.e. John Harrigan in a similarly themed "L.I.E") but as a nice guy. Despite the morally corrupt nature of his deeds,I found myself liking Coach.And this in a nutshell is the genius of this film and in Araki's now well-honed talent. Araki is taking big chances in his choice to go there with Coach but it is a brave and honest, though in many ways reckless, choice nonetheless. John Gordon Levitt makes a major splash in this film. His Neil is morally lazy and a slacker and time and time again, he sets himself up as an emotional target to be used and abused by older men. He recalls his "times" with Coach fondly: "I was his favorite," he pathetically says several times in this film. Levitt's Neil is unable to make any kind of sincere connection with anyone: the blank, emotionally vacant look on his face when he is offered non-sexual tenderness is chilling and terrifying: he is a robot, stripped of all his feelings, able to only respond to and recognize the sexual. However misguided, Neil is on a continual search to find the warmth and caring he felt with Coach, his touchstone. But when another of Coach's victims, Brian (Brady Corbet) comes to Neil looking for answers, Neil recognizes him as a comrade, his facade collapses and Neil patiently and kindly tells Brian all he wants to know. "Mysterious Skin" is likely to offend a lot of people what with it's human and kind portrayal of an abuser but Araki cannot be faulted for presenting the whole story: he shows us, let's remember...he does not tell us. He leaves it to us to draw our own conclusions."
One of the very best films of 2005.
I. Sondel | Tallahassee, FL United States | 04/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I read Scott Heim's novel "Mysterious Skin" a number of years ago, and found it powerful and challenging. When I learned that Gregg Araki was making a film based on the book, I was apprehensive. "Msterious Skin" deals with the long lasting effects of child abuse. The last thing one wants when approaching this subject from an artistic stand point, is to be in any way exploitive. The good news is that Mr. Araki's has triumphed - his is a brilliant film. The performances throughout are outstanding - especially that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an in-your-face gay teen who uses sex as a means to an end - whether hustling or simply giving it away. Brady Corbet delivers in the quieter role of Brian, who has so effectively blocked the memory of his abuse that he has come to believe that he may have been a victim of alien abduction.
This is a tough little film, dealing with topics that most people shy away from - child sexual molestation, drug abuse, prostitution and homosexuality. Araki doesn't flinch or shy away from any of them. It is a testsment to his incredible talent that he has made a film from this material which is both palatable and compelling.
Jennifer Heath | Somerville, MA United States | 05/30/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Be forewarned: This film takes a frank look at pedophilia, prostitution, and rape from the perspective of two sexually abused boys. If you are honestly interested in understanding the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse, director Gregg Araki's film is an extremely thoughtful and non-exploitive examination of a painful and relatively neglected film topic.
In Hutchison, Kansas, during the summer of 1981, Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbett), are molested by their little league baseball coach (Bill Sage). Brian's response to the abuse is to blackout and to forget what happened to him. In order to account for his two blackouts, Brian imagines that aliens abducted him. Neil, however, becomes the team's star player, and develops a summer long relationship with Coach. Unlike Brian, Neil both remembers and attempts to control and re-experience his exploitation by becoming a male prostitute. Eventually, Brian, haunted by bizarre dreams, seeks to end his general sense of malaise. After a fellow alien abductee encourages him to follow the clues from his dreams, Brian discovers that he and Neil share a common past.
So many of the things in this film are spot on. In point of fact, boys are more often abused by babysitters, coaches, and teachers. And while Neil tells his best friend Wendy about the abuse (after making her witness his abuse of another boy), neither boy tells his parents. Also, there is no recognizable symptom of sexual abuse; the two boys respond to their experience in remarkable different ways. Neil identifies with his abuser; Brian disassociates himself from his sexuality. Though both boys develop compulsive behaviors, the film skirts clear of oversimplifying their psychological distress. And probable the most painful scene in the film, the revictimization of Neil at the hands of a client, reminds us of one horrible after effect of childhood sexual abuse; abuse victims are more likely to be raped as adolescents and adults.
The weakest links in this film are the portrayals of Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Mrs. M. (Elisabeth Shue). Both Trachtenberg and Shue are too wholesome for their roles. The "edge" that both Wendy and Mrs. M. should have ( after all, Mrs. M is a single mom who works as a cashier by day while entertaining herself with an ever changing stream of bedmates by night, while Wendy insinuates that she lacks parental care and attention) is conveyed through visual gimmicks (the ubiquitous cigarette, tough make-up and wild hair styles) rather than compelling acting.
Unlike others who have seen this film, I do not think that Araki was seeking to portray Coach as a nice guy, or even as a morally ambiguous guy. Rather, Araki is showing us a true sexual predator - a wolf in sheep's clothing, as it were. Sexual predators work very hard to establish trust -- which requires at least a veneer of niceness - since trust is necessary in order for them to do what they want to do to their child victims. If anything, I thought Araki showed how deeply confusing and painful it was for Neil to grapple with what he wanted to believe about Coach -- that Coach loved and cared about him -- with reality -- Coach's interest in Neil was limited to Neil's usefulness as a means of sexual satisfaction.
The film's final scene, in which Brian and Neil begin to heal a traumatic betrayal of trust by trusting each other, will stay with me for a very long time."
A significant achievement
Steven Reynolds | Sydney, Australia | 08/29/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In the summer of '81, Kansas 8-year-olds Neil and Brian are both sexually abused by their Little League coach, but their reactions could not be more different. For the sexually precocious Neil, it's a sexual awakening, setting him on the path to becoming a gay hustler and a life of such emotional numbness that he looks back on Coach as his "one true love". For Brian, it's a hellish experience his brain all but erases with 5 hours of lost time, leaving him shy, remote, unable to engage romantically with anyone, and floundering through adolescence struggling to make sense of what happened to him. It's only when he finally reconnects with Neil after a decade of searching that all the pieces finally fall into place... Gregg Araki's significant achievement here is to make a movie that is as moving as it is pitiless in the depiction of abuse and its consequences. The writing is crisp, the performances brave and convincing (Joseph Gordon-Levitt especially), and it's so brilliantly structured and edited that the only time any abuse is actually "seen" is in the minds of the audience during the moving final confessional sequence. It's hard to believe that this bold and tender film could be criticised for its masterful handling of a difficult subject, yet it aroused the ire of ludicrously conservative film and literature classification bodies here in Australia. Members were apparently alarmed that it might be used as some kind of training video for paedophiles in how to "groom" their victims. On the contrary: rarely has a film so powerfully and effectively argued against abuse by showing its devastating consequences."