Mysterious Skin is a 2004 drama about the convergent lives of two boys: one searching for closure, while the other searches for the truth. The film touches on multiple issues, including homosexuality, abuse and prostitution, but comes off as more illustrative than preachy.
Brian Lackey is an brainy college student who is haunted by continual nosebleeds and nightmares of a troubled past he cannot wholly recall. Hours of his memory are lost without explanation with the last moment he can detail being sitting on the bench of a little league baseball game. He is found by his older sister, hours later, in the basement of his house, bleeding from the nose. Through the years, he has concluded that this and the following occurrences are the result of alien abductions, devoting much of his time to validating this claim.
Neil McCormick is a homosexual prostitute scarred by the sexual relationship with his Coach the summer he played little league. Neil confides his secrets in his childhood friend Wendy, who has loved Neil for quite some time; however, when describing him, she says, “Where normal people have a heart, Neil McCormick has a bottomless black hole. And if you don't watch out, you can fall in and get lost forever.” Neil moves with Wendy to New York where he is confronted with the dangers of prostitution and AIDS, as the film takes place in the early ‘90s.
The film’s plot is brilliant and completely enthralling taking twists and turns leaving the audience to come to conclusions, then second guessing them. These conclusions range vastly from Neil being an alien to Brian being mentally ill. This is made possible by the convincing performances of Joseph Gorden-Levitt (Neil), Brady Corbet (Brian) and Riley McGuire (Wendy). Jeffery Licon’s portrayal of a friend of the three, Eric, is also worth mentioning.
A number of scenes in this film are rather difficult to watch, not because they are of poor production quality; rather, they are gritily realistic in depicting social taboos. The pain felt is derived from a sympathy toward the misfortunes of many of the characters, the majority of which is directed at Neil. While the film depicts Neil as a homosexual from birth, his relationship with the Coach steered his future career decisions.
The film’s commentary on the aforementioned social taboos are more academic than opinionated. Rather than producing a moral statement on these topics, the film demonstrates the manner in which individuals handle and are affected by these traumatic events; the audience is left to come to a conclusion of their own.
Director Gregg Araki should also be mentioned, if anything, for producing a truly noteworthy film that is leaps and bounds ahead of his other works thus far. It’s easy to see the powerful direction in the film which leads one to believe that Araki has great potential.
The film leaves the audience with an emotionally disturbed feeling, somewhere between sympathy and anger. While this emotion is not always desired, it comes along with a feeling of closure to this wonderful film.