Gregg Araki’s ‘Mysterious Skin’ (2004)

03Apr07


Mysterious Skin offers a powerful and unique insight into the effects of child abuse. In his approach to the material, Araki does not demonize or judge any of the characters, even Coach. The script follows two narratives, those of Neil and Brian, portrayed by two fine young actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet respectively. While the acting is good all around, Brian’s story is not nearly as compelling as Neil’s.

The audience suspects Brian’s big discovery about being molested by his baseball coach, therefore the meat of Brian’s story is watching his struggles with personal relationships and recognizing the reality of his abuse. The plotline is effective and the scene in which Brian confronts and accepts what happened to him as a child is poignant, but as a character Neil is much more intriguing.

While Brian has blocked out the abuse and become practically catatonic, Neil remembers his relationship with Coach with a mixture of fondness and hatred. He delves into a life of prostitution, seeking a connection with older men, looking for the affection and approval that he found in his relationship with Coach. But he knows that he will never find that connection again, which makes him reckless and leads to a brutal rape and beating. Only after he experiences more inhumanity than he thought himself capable can he connect with Brian, of all people, to help him confront the experience that he has erased from his memory.


My only complaint about this film is that both Brian and Neil come from home environments in which the father is absent and the mother forms an unusually close relationship with the son. Especially in the case of Neil, his home life is one that is represented as stereotypically “causing young boys to become gay.”

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