Friday, February 01, 2008

Mysterious Skin * * * *

Mysterious Skin filmMysterious Skin (link to DVD on Amazon)
Mysterious Skin tells the story of the ramifications of the sexual abuse of two eight-year old boys by their Little League coach. The coach grooms one of the boys and has a summer of 'encounters' with the boy, Neil. Neil seems to enjoy and embrace the experience (this is admittedly distressing to watch) and he even becomes the man's accomplice in luring other boys into the coach's apartment and them helping groom those boys. The other boy, Brian, is one of those boys whom Neil helps lure into the coach's apartment. Brian is no less traumatized by the experience, but in a completely different way than Neil.

The movie focuses mostly on Neil as an 18-year old and the fateful summer with the coach is shown in flashbacks. As a young man, Neil looks back on this summer as his dearest and most important childhood experience. During a conversation with a close friend, Neil says that the coach was the only one who has truly loved him. Neil's friend objects that Neil was 8-years old and is about to point out that this was abuse not love. Neil aggressively defends the experience and says "that it is a huge, huge part of who he is." The latter statement is indeed the truth, and through watching Neil as a young man we see the how true and tragic is this abuse masquerading as 'love' (ug). Neil becomes a male-prostitute and it becomes clear that by doing tricks with middle-aged men he is trying to recapture that summer. Indeed, Neil's whole life seems to revolve in some way around his obsession with that summer. It is only at the very end that Neil begins to gain some perspective -- this by meeting Brian and seeing how Brian was traumatized by what happened. Neil was an accomplice to that and he becomes critical in helping Brian remember and thus begin to heal.

This was one of the best movies I saw in 2007 (Kaja agreed that it was great too). The acting is phenomenal and the script is nuanced and excellent. As a parent, I normally would never watch a movie about child molestation -- there are some images you do not want in your head. However, Kaja picked out the movie; it was highly recommended by his friends although he did not know what it was about. As he sat down on the couch with the popcorn, he turned to me and said, "By the way, most people say this is a little disturbing." But by then the DVD was already spinning. Yes, the movie is a little disturbing. In case you are wondering, there are no images of crying children getting raped -- Neil is a willing participant. Yes, yes, the coach grooms and manipulates Neil so that he is willing. This is disturbing, but I found this more watchable than what happened to Brian. Fortunately, we do not actually see what happens to Brian (it is described). BUT, the film is NOT about child-molestation; it is about how two fascinating young men and how something in their youth made them who they are.

This is a great film and I recommend it highly with caveats. The first caveat is that you need to like difficult films about difficult topics, such as Trainspotting, Boys Don't Cry, or Monster. If you avoid films like that, then you'll want to avoid this one too. The second caveat is you need know that this film is sexually graphic. Neil is a male prostitute and about 25% of the film involves him during his tricks. There is no full-frontal nudity (though plenty backside), but you know exactly what he is doing and what is being done to him. It is not titillating; most of his clients seem to be overweight used-car salesmen types. The actual sexual encounters between the coach and Neil are shown by clever editing -- the child actors are never actually in the same shot as the coach except when they are talking early on. Instead the abuse is graphically described by Neil (at age 18).

You might want also check out other reviews...:

Clip from the film (nothing bad besides some salty language):

Rented from Netflix