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Thread: Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin

  1. #16
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    The points you make are extremely valid so I don't think there is any argument there. I can understand how it would happen that someone who was seduced at an early age would continue that pattern when they reach adulthood themselves. That would have actually been a very telling point if made in the film.

    I didn't get the impression that there was more than one incident in Brian's past but perhaps I missed something. I guess how people react to it is very different. I was sexually seduced by an older cousin when I was six but didn't think too much about it. I told my mother but she shrugged it off and didn't seem to attach any significance to it so I didn't either.

    I know the film wasn't about UFOs but if they are going to be brought into the story, the material should be presented in a manner that is worthy of a serious subject, regardless what you think is behind them. I think perhaps we seem to agree on that.

    I know it is just a story but I just wish that the buying of sex between willing partners wasn't treated in such a sensational way. Sure there will be creeps but what is missing is the reality that johns can be respected members of the community and don't have to be ugly and twisted old men.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  2. #17
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    Here is my review

    MYSTERIOUS SKIN

    Directed by Gregg Araki (2004)

    Five hours, from the time it was raining after a Little League game until he woke up in the cellar of his home with a bloody nose, are a blank to eight-year old Brian (George Webster). In Gregg Araki's powerful drama, Mysterious Skin, Brian accounts for his missing time by confabulating it with stories of alien abductions and sets out on a path to uncover long suppressed memories. This is not a film about alien abductions, however, but about inappropriate sexual seduction of children and its deleterious effect on their development. While it is often graphic and difficult to watch, it is a sensitive film, held together by authentic and heartfelt performances by Joseph-Gordon Levitt as Neil and Brady Corbet as Brian that allow us to connect with their open wounds.

    Based on a 1996 novel of the same name by Scott Heim, Mysterious Skin opens as Brian and Neil (Chase Ellison) are on the same baseball team in their hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas. Neil is the star athlete on the team, while Brian is not as good, a fact repeatedly pointed out to him by his father (Chris Mulkey) who later abandons the family. Neil is the son of a single mom (Elizabeth Shue) who is more attentive to her many boy friends than to Neil. Although only about ten, he feels that he's gay and is flattered when the coach (Bill Sage) takes an interest in him and brings him to his house to introduce him to snacks, video games, and sexual activity.

    The film then moves ahead ten years to reveal two boys who have gone in different directions. Neil has become a male hustler who prefers older men and has found a niche in the town park that is available to prostitution. Though he seems to be searching to recover the special loving feeling that he felt with his baseball coach, this proves elusive and he goes from one unloving john to another (typically depicted as old, fat, ugly, wealthy, or sadistic). His friend Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) describes Neil to his gay friend Eric (Jeff Licon) as a person with a black hole for a heart. To find more edgy experiences, Neil follows Wendy to New York but all he finds is more of the same and a lot edgier.

    Brian, on the other hand, has become a deeply introverted teenager who accounts for his memory loss by assigning it to a UFO-related abduction, though he has none of the other common signs of alien abduction and is without physical evidence to prove it. He watches a television program about alien abductions and decides to meet one of the abductees on the program, a young woman named Avalyn (Mary Lynn Rajskub) with whom he visits and shares the dreams he has recorded in his notebook. Brian tells her of a dream he has had about a young boy on his baseball team and she encourages him to find out the boy's identity to shed some light on the missing time incident. When the young woman tries to seduce him, however, he recoils in horror. Eventually, Brian discovers Neil's identity by researching the team history at the library and the final sequence in the coach's empty house when Neil and Brian meet at Christmastime is memorable for its tender beauty.

    Mysterious Skin is an honest and compelling film in which there are no good guys and bad guys, just flawed people who act out their deep-seated needs in a harmful sexual way. Although Araki doesn't stand in judgment of his characters or their behavior, the results of their actions are unmistakable. Although we watch Neil engage in self-destructive behavior, the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is so revealing that we root for him in spite of reluctantly noticing the open pit into which he is falling. The only false note in the film is the implication that "screen" memories masking the repression of sexual abuse are an explanation of alien abductions. According to David Jacobs (Secret Life, 1992), of the thousands of accounts of UFO-related abductions no screen memories have ever been stripped away to reveal a past history of abuse. This is only a minor flaw, however, in one of the best films of the year.

    GRADE: A-
    Last edited by Howard Schumann; 11-14-2005 at 07:01 PM.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  3. #18
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    Excellent....and this is your point of view about the abductions issue. I would have mentioned that Brian discovers he is gay toward the end, and that this brings him some relief. There is one misprint: Though he seems to be to searching

  4. #19
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    Brian is gay?

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Excellent....and this is your point of view about the abductions issue. I would have mentioned that Brian discovers he is gay toward the end, and that this brings him some relief. There is one misprint: Though he seems to be to searching
    I didn't get that Brian discovers he is gay. What is the evidence for that, because he rests his head on Neil's shoulder?
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  5. #20
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    No, you're right, I went too far with that, Brian simply gets closer and closer to Neil so they become best friends, in Brian's view anyway, and towards the end their stories converge as Brian goes back to remember what experience he shared with Neil and the baseball coach. That coming together may be interpreted in vairous ways; that they're two sides of the same person, for one. Brian may remain almost as confused and unformed at the end, but he's just reunited in that one moment with Neil, facing which may finally allow him to become something. Brian's violent pulling away from the girl who makes a pass at him indicated he may not have been straight, but for all we may know he could still remain asexual. At the end point of the final scene a new level of truth has been reached perhaps for both young men, but Brian is only at the dawning level of awareness. It does appear with that head on the shoulder that Brian is going to cuddle up with Neil and take what comfort he may give, and in Neil's consenting to give comfort to the boy he shares some serious history with (in contrast to his fleeting experiences of transient sex) he may be himself drawn out of the black hole of emptiness of his hardened heart. Nobody has really gone very far to analyse this; not only is the material tough for people to look at, but the direction the story goes isn't something people are quite willing to follow up on. At that final scene, we feel some relief that Brian is being freed of his delusions, but the wounds are only beginning to be opened up for both of the boys. Perhaps Brian will discover that he is gay; perhaps Neil will discover that he is straight.

    I see what you mean about your own seduction. Such an experience may or may not be significant. I think a careful viewing of Mysterious SKin will show that Brian was pursued by the coach, with Neil as his helper, on more than one occasion.

    I think it's important to recognize Araki's history as a director -- Kevin Thomas is right to call him "gifted" -- who used to seek to shock, but here instead approaches real material that is itself shocking, turning his ability to deal with shock to a more serious use. As Rooney of Variety puts it, this film is "spiky and lyrical": it's ugly/beautiful, and to look at its troubling material up close has to be itself a troubling -- and at times confusing -- experience. There are assumptions -- about pedophilia, about the origins of homosexuality, about the results of childhood sexual experience, about blackouts and alien abductions, that can be questioned. Araki simply adapts them from the novel, and runs with them, presumably -- because this works that way -- the material allows him to approach some important hitherto unexplored areas of experience. I never thought I'd see an adult male sexually seduce a little boy onscreen, or that I'd be able to take it seriously, or even watch it. There's a lot more to the movie, but this for me in an essential element.

    You're right; Brian doesn't discover that he is gay. But he discovers that he has engaged in homosexual acts, and so he is opening up to the gay side of himself.

  6. #21
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    Whatever our interpretation may be of the final sequence, it was still a well-executed scene and very lovely with the Christmas carols in the background. You know which ever way it goes for Brian and Niel, they have a special bond that they can always call on.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  7. #22
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    Notes

    While Gregg Arakiís Mysterious Skin isnít a highly original film, it covers the issues of child abuse and pedophilia with a heightened sense of sensitivity and vulnerability thatís rarely seen in American cinema. And the fact that the film has made such subject matter its central issue deserves to be recognized.

    *Most were probably surprised to see the former "3rd Rock from the Sun" star Joseph Gordon-Levitt deliver a riveting performance as Neil McCormick. But a select few who watched him in a little-known, DV-shot indie called Manic (2001) were aware of his potential. He played an impulsive, self-destructive rebel who ultimately discovered another facet of himself. Sounds familiar?

    *Arakiís highly textured visuals are exquisitely framed, almost comforting viewers during the most harrowing of sequences. Arguably the reason why Mysterious Skin, at times, doesnít feel "cinematic." An intentional move, perhaps, and it works well.

    *Certain characters are one-dimensional, as Chris said. Wendy only revolves around when the narrative requires her. Thereís no sense of her as a being. But then, the way sheís treated unfortunately reminds one of how gay characters are presented in most other films.

    *The film is poorly edited, especially during the later stages. Thereís no sense of time, rhythm, structure.

    *The UFO angle is very important to this film, and itís handled extremely well. At times viewers need to adjust their mindset to how the director and his characters view certain issues. Araki presents it as a myth which Brian created for himself. And that enabled him to cope with life and himself thus far. Same for the character of Avalyn, whose imagination has allowed her to access the attention she craves as a handicapped person.

    *A better, more important film would not end where Mysterious Skin did. Where do these two individuals, especially Brian, go from here? I donít think Araki is capable of providing the answers. But as I said earlier, he should be commended for bringing us closer to these characters.


    Grade: B

    _____________________________

    *MYSTERIOUS SKIN is now available on DVD.

  8. #23
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    You may be right that the movie is more notable for its subject matter than its style, but you yourself acknowledge beautiful lush visuals and your "B" rating seems a bit low; at the end of the year, I suspect Mysterious Skin may look like one of the most notable American offerings -- but my lists aren't made up yet!

    Thanks for mentioning Manic. I even reviewed, it, but forgot to mention it in reviewing Araki's movie; it does certainly show Joseph Gordon-Levitt's willingness to take on edgy roles. He's working a lot now, which isn't surprising, though his latest two, Havoc and Shadowboxer, don't look super-great.

  9. #24
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    Re: Notes

    Originally posted by arsaib4

    *The UFO angle is very important to this film, and itís handled extremely well. At times viewers need to adjust their mindset to how the director and his characters view certain issues. Araki presents it as a myth which Brian created for himself. And that enabled him to cope with life and himself thus far. Same for the character of Avalyn, whose imagination has allowed her to access the attention she craves as a handicapped person.
    I don't want to turn this into a discussion about UFOs but your statement borders on the ludicrous. This is a very serious issue involving thousands of credible people that has yet gone unexplained. Araki's attempt to explain it away not only does an injustice to the complexity and seriousness of the problem, but as I pointed out in my review is patently false. No screen memories involving sexual abuse have ever been discovered from people who report UFO-related abductions. Your attempt to psycholgize the woman's abduction also strikes a simplistic and false note being that there was physical evidence displayed. What books have you read on this subject?
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  10. #25
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    At times viewers need to adjust their mindset to how the director and his characters view certain issues.

    Obviously you didn't do that. Instead you ludicrously tried to impose your own beliefs onto the situation.

    I believe that we do need to "psychologize" these human beings in order to understand them.

  11. #26
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    Originally posted by arsaib4
    At times viewers need to adjust their mindset to how the director and his characters view certain issues.
    I noted how the director viewed the issue and criticized the point of view which is false and intellectually lazy.
    Obviously you didn't do that. Instead you ludicrously tried to impose your own beliefs onto the situation.
    This isn't a question of one's beliefs. I was noting that it is simply not born out by the facts to assign screen memories of sexual abuse as a "solution" to reports of UFO-related abductions.
    I believe that we do need to "psychologize" these human beings in order to understand them.
    Again I will ask with all due respect - what books if any have you ever read on the subject? Have you ever read any of the books by Budd Hopkins or John Mack? The issue is undoubtedly clouded in mystery but it is a real issue that has affected the lives of thousands, maybe even millions of people all over the world. The answer to that mystery does not lie in "psycholgizing" the abductees.
    Last edited by Howard Schumann; 11-23-2005 at 08:02 PM.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  12. #27
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    I think your words (just quoted) state the matter correcty and succinctly, arsaib. If anything else has to be considered in evaluating the film, it is not books on UFO's but the eponymous novel upon which the film is based, which I don't think any of us has consulted but to which, I suspect, Araki is being true in his handling of "the UFO angle" as a "myth Brian created for himself.... that enabled him to cope with life and himself thus far." The story is about how Neil and Brian "processed" their "trauma", as Oscar put it, and the UFO "myth" is a step along the way during the period when Brian has still completely blocked out the sexual experiences he had as a child.

  13. #28
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    I think your words (just quoted) state the matter correcty and succinctly, arsaib. If anything else has to be considered in evaluating the film, it is not books on UFO's but the eponymous novel upon which the film is based, which I don't think any of us has consulted but to which, I suspect, Araki is being true in his handling of "the UFO angle" as a "myth Brian created for himself.... that enabled him to cope with life and himself thus far." The story is about how Neil and Brian "processed" their "trauma", as Oscar put it, and the UFO "myth" is a step along the way during the period when Brian has still completely blocked out the sexual experiences he had as a child.
    Perhaps in this case Araki is being true to the novel. However, the film is its own text, and whether it is a faithful rendition of the novel or not, it was still Araki's decision to handle the UFO material in the way that he did.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  14. #29
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    Yes of course "it was still Araki's decision to handle the UFO material in the way that he did." And it was a perfectly sensible decision in view of what he was doing, an adaptation of the novel by Scott Heim.
    I don't want to turn this into a discussion about UFOs. . .
    Those are your words. And quite proper. The movie, like the novel, isn't about UFO's; it's about childhood sexual abuse and two different boys' reaction to it. Brian hasn't been abducted by a UFO. He imagines that he may have been, to explain the blank in his memory that covers that traumatic expeience that happened to him in 1981. He knows nothing about UFO's directly -- assuming that there can be such knowledge -- and very little indirectly. His fantasies about adduction are only a misstep along the way to coming to terms with what has happened to him -- an experience that Neil is able to lead him to, because Neil was there too with his eyes wide open and Neil never repressed what happened because he was open to it (though in another way it damaged him too). So I think the discussion has gone as far as it can here.

  15. #30
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    I just arrived back from Toronto today- I gave up on the festival.
    It's madness, chaos. I wasn't prepared at all for it.
    I hadn't been to T.O. in over 10 years.
    I just drank for a week...

    I saw 6 films in total, and the experience has made me a little jaded. I thought Vancouver was bad for lines, Rush or not.

    I couldn't get into any of the films I wanted to so I said F*** this and jetted back to Ottawa with my friend Stephen, who is a Gregg Araki freak. maybe next year...


    Steve's got a box set of Araki soundtracks and I made a great mix tape- if anyone wants a copy let me know- this music is extremely rare- try to find an Araki soundtrack- you can't. They're all out of print.

    I haven't seen a single Araki film, but I'm dying to now.

    It's weird music, but if you listen to it over and over it seeps into your skull. That's all we played at the hotel. We got some Absinthe, watched the T.V. on mute and just listened to Araki's music, while trying to figure out what movies to see at the TIFF. I should have done a recon of the city before arriving- we were feeling our way around Bloor street.

    Rose McGowan has a line at the beginning of the Doom Generation soundtrack that I looped throughout the tape:
    There just is no place for us in this world

    Mysterious Skin's music is by the Cocteau Twins and it's very evocative. Mood music to the nth degree.

    I haven't seen the movie, but I looked here for anybody's reviews and this popped up- thanks Chris. GREAT THREAD.

    Araki is one of those avant-garde directors, out there, on the edge. I'll try to track down his films and post reviews.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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