Mysterious Skin - Araki matures
| I have to confess that I loath Gregg Araki films. They often amount to little more than beautiful people running around confusing depth with violent, hypersexual behaviour. If there was just a little more skin they would be bad soft core pornography. Imagine Red Shoe Diaries meets Queer as Folk meets X-Files and you've got the general feeling. Going into Mysterious Skin, I was worried I would be in for another dreadful experience.
The movie gods must have been listening to my whispered prayers as the credits rolled because, dare I say it, Araki has finally made a good film. This could be because, unlike his infamous films The Living End or The Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin is based on a novel written by someone else. At least Araki is working with a real story and real characters here.
Mysterious Skin is the tale of two young men who were sexually abused as children and help each other come to terms with their situation. If you are at all familiar with Araki's work the premise is frightening as it would be very easy for this man to exploit this subject for all it's worth. However, the remarkable thing is that he doesn't. Instead Araki has crafted quite a sensitive and moving exploration of the way lives are torn apart by sexual abuse.
Mysterious Skin is not perfect. Araki's adaptation is a bit heavy handed and literal. He has the characters explain their feelings a great deal and commits the cardinal sin of "telling" instead of "showing." Still, he manages to get into the heads of each of the two young men and bring them to life with a truthfulness that he has never achieved before.
Some of this could be due to the cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is remarkable as the boy who turns to a life of hustling after his childhood abuse. He allows the character to embrace his exploitation in a way that is devastatingly honest. The film and the actor, while managing to illustrate the horror of sexual abuse, are both honest enough to make it more complicated than our mainstream understanding acknowledges.
This is the real strength of Mysterious Skin. Like The Woodsman, which recently dealt frankly and fearlessly with the humanity of a child abuser, Mysterious Skin provides an equally honest view of the humanity of victims. This honesty makes the film quite difficult to watch. There are scenes that are terrifying, scenes that you may have read about, which demonstrate the horror of the abuse in a way that most of us have never had to experience. These scenes are crafted with a surprisingly delicacy which allows for the power of the moment to exist without exploitation. It's truly a remarkable achievement.
While not an easy film to watch it is well worth the experience. I hope this is a sign of a film maker who is maturing and not simply a fluke.