Directed by: Gregg Araki
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg
Brian Lackey and Neil McCormick aren’t what you’d call similar; they’re complete polar opposites. Neil, oblivious and often apathetic towards his potential future, has successfully employed himself as the neighborhood hustler, offering his services to just about every man he can get his hands on. The bookish Brian on the other hand is socially inept, failing to find friendship in anyone other than his mother, both of whom have been estranged by his father several years ago. As time passes for the duo in small-town Kansas, Brian continuously searches for the answers behind a rather unsettling experience he had as a child involving a series of blackouts following a Little League game, assuming they came about as a result of an alien abduction. Eventually, Brian’s research inexplicably leads him to Neil, allowing him to finally uncover the harrowing truth.
I’m not too fond of graphic sexuality in film. I’m especially not fond of graphic sexuality involving children, otherwise known as pedophilia. So, to say that I found myself a bit squeamish for a majority of this film could potentially qualify as the understatement of the year, if not the past several. However, Gregg Araki’s powerful adaptation of the Scott Heim novel of the same title does manage to provide us with a heartfelt, insightful, almost dreamlike look at one of the nation’s, if not the world’s more pressing issues: sexual abuse.
Having touched upon my dislike for the often graphic nature of the film, I found it was easier to gravitate towards an admiration for Gordon-Levitt’s Neil, allowing for his character’s numerous sexual exploits to sort of overshadow the very reserved Brian’s continuing search for the aforementioned truth behind daily nosebleeds and a series of childhood blackouts. This isn’t to say Brady Corbet’s portrayal of Brian is altogether forgettable: it’s excellent in capturing the overal awkwardness that plagues Brian’s every thought and move, and both actors manage to make the film all the more enjoyable thanks to a rather favorable directorial turn by Araki.
The psychology of these two characters is also touched upon in a brilliant fashion, allowing us to see how Neil’s obvious naivety as a child struggling to come to terms with his budding sexuality, along with subpar parental guidance, has inevitably led to his career in prostitution and a reckless attitude towards it. When examining Brian on the other hand, it can be deduced from the sequences depicting the two as children that his father’s high expectations and negligence had a hand in the trauma he’d experienced, leaving his mother to pick up the pieces after his departure. This in mind, Araki’s screenplay compliments his ample direction nicely, allowing events to play themselves out in a coherent manner consistent with that of the source material, even if the script isn’t the most intelligent nor some sequences as intriguing as others in several respects.
In the end, it’s safe to say that Mysterious Skin is an emotionally crushing portrait of two youths forever affected by a tragic instance of abuse. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance may help carry the film at points where it begins to drag, but for the most part, Araki has provided us with a fine example of what he’s capable of despite the mindless gay dramas he’s had a hand in. It may sport a heaping amount of the one thing I often can’t stomach within modern-day cinema, but I found it rather easy to enjoy this film to the fullest thanks all of the above and the overall poignancy the subject matter carries with it.