Mysterious Skin

I’ll admit it readers, lately I’ve been neglecting my blog, mainly because, thanks to my co-worker Jim, I’ve become a “Lost” fan, and have spent the last month or so watching ever episode I could (and also because of some blog problems).

But, now the “Lost” weekends and the fourth season are complete, and I’m ready to get back to the movies.

This week’s offering is Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin.”

The film opens in the summer of 1981, and we meet Neil McCormick, age 8, who has the presence of mind to know that he’s gay, even if he doesn’t know what to do with his feelings. Enter Coach (Bill Sage), Neil’s little league coach, who catches the eye of young Neil and reciprocates his feelings. Soon, Neil has become his favorite boy, and the two are locked into a predator/prey relationship.

Also in that summer, we meet another young boy named Brian, age 8, who inexplicably loses five hours of his life and finds himself waking up in a crawl space with a bloody nose.

Flash forward a few years, and Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) are all grown up but still haunted by the events of that summer. Neil has become a small-town prostitute, picking up random johns in a park and not caring what becomes of his life. After watching a science-fiction show on TV, Brian has convinced himself he was abducted by aliens; he meets up with a shy older woman (Mary Lynn Rajskub), a fellow alien abductee, who attempts to help him solve his life’s riddle.

As you can already tell, this is not a movie for everybody; I can’t imagine that child molestation would ever be an easy topic, but Araki, who also wrote the screenplay, has the right touch for the material. The molestation scenes, purposefully shot to shield the young actors from the harsh material, nevertheless show the nightmare world these kids were forced into by a man who supposed to watch out for them.

Also of note are the main performances by Gordon-Levitt and Corbet. Gordon-Levitt’s is devastating as Neil, a young man with no faith or hope or soul left. Corbet’s Brian, on the other hand, is a young man who has withdrawn into himself for so long that he doesn’t know how to live with the people around him. Both of them are the worst-case-scenarios for abuse that too often become the only scenarios. Despite one serious casting mistake, (Michelle Trachtenberg struggles so much with the Midwest accent that we don’t see her performance), all the actors bring their A-game to this sensitive and compelling film.

The real horror of abuse is that for the victims, and for Brian and Neil, their lives didn’t have to be this way. We can never know what might have been, but Neil and Brian’s lives are marked by that summer, and by the end of the film, we know that they may or may not recover from it.

“Mysterious Skin” (2005)

Written and directed by Gregg Araki

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Neil)

Brady Corbet (Brian)