Filmmaker Gregg Araki is known for his distinctive cult style of “queer cinema” full of teen angst, blurred sexuality, and graphic violence. Many of his films are in my ‘top favorite non-horror films’ with Nowhere, The Doom Generation (obviously my blog’s inspiration!), and Araki’s magnum opus (at least, in my opinion) Mysterious Skin. Mysterious Skin is one of those movies that gives you the feels- whether that feeling be sadness, disgust, compassion, confusion, or anger. Whatever the emotion, it will be prominent and strong.
Brian (played by Brady Corbet) and Neil (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are two boys who share a traumatic past which ultimately shapes their contrasting and unstable futures.
Their lives couldn’t be more different, yet something tragic links them together.
Brian is obsessed with the belief that he was abducted by aliens as a child and suffers from nose bleeds, black outs, and bed wetting. His missing chunks of memory have made him nervous and soft-spoken, relying heavily on his mother’s smothering and nurturing nature.
Neil, by the time he graduates high-school, is regularly giving and receiving sexual favors for money and is known for fucking every ‘John’ in the park in his small Kansas town. He is brash, lacking empathy and self-respect, heading down an empty path of rape and sexually transmitted diseases. The carelessness and jaded outlook of these characters is unnerving.
Nearly every scene is shockingly perverse and eye-wideningly horrifying. This tactic is nothing new for Gregg Araki, but his other films offer lurid and crude humor to juxtapose this frank and harrowing content. Mysterious Skin, on the other hand, never lets up from beginning to end, as if you are under water gasping for air. Irreversible is another film that shells out blow after blow of repulsive and breath-taking artistry. If there ever was a rape scene to rival with the one in Irreversible, this would be it. It makes my stomach tighten and churn, no matter how many times I have seen it. There is a reason this movie is NC-17 and the brutal and graphic gay sex scenes are it.
Despite the garish portrayal of sexuality, there is a tender and seamless approach to conveying these characters’ fears and vices. Their two opposing stories somehow parallel each other from year to year. In essence, nothing matters prior to the tragic incident of their childhood; that moment makes them who they are and propels every decision they will make in the future. This is the kind of heavy-hitting film that lights your heart on fire and fills you with despair, leaving only emptiness and a hole in your heart when it is gone. You will want to curl up in the fetal position, just like Brian, after watching this.
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