Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Greatness of the day: MYSTERIOUS SKIN
Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin does many things magnificently. It's a one-film curative for indie pederast apologia pathogen like L.I.E. and The Woodsman. It's American magical realism with poetry and bite. And in layer after layer of greyscale suffering and possibly not so happenstance balm, it negates Spielberg's pornography of false optimism. As in Scott Heim’s brilliant source novel, it argues that memory scars everything; only a truthful, ongoing engagement with the original wound does any good at all.
Skin is all about the victims of abuse and the life-long mangling of self and reality. In this case two, two small-town Kansas boys who were seduced, fucked, and abandoned by their baseball coach (Bill Sage).
Ten years later, teen Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) deals with his repeated rape by leaving the site of the crime for New York where his cauterized heart can, for a while, be an occupational plus.
The asexual Brian (Brady Corbet) blacks out the horror, believing instead that he was abducted by UFOs. In Brian, Araki locates the horror of nothingness, as Brian narrates, "The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life. Five hours. Lost. Gone without a trace."
Selective forgetfulness eats away at Brian even as it shields him from whatever horrors lies in those five hours. It also positions the audience in a constant, low-grade-anxiety situation.
Brought up on Oprah culture, we think Brian might be better is he just remembers and processes his troubles and ta-da!, recovery. But we see what the perpetrator coach did, and we see how Neil destroys himself, and we see how helpless Brian is, and we can't help but wonder if Brian can ever weather such monstrosity. At the same time, we can sense the consuming evil parting the curtains of forgetfulness to eat Brian alive and we can't bear to watch that either.
Araki allows us no way out. Not because he's the hipster nihilist critics have accused him of being, but because his respect for these boys is so absolute, he refuses to sell them short.
As the film floats through its daylit-dark, the boys’ lives intertwine, leading to a single, unforgettably heart-wrecking closing image that doesn’t exclude a whiff of hope. Whatever you think of Araki’s past queer-splotation movies (The Doom Generation, Nowhere) is rendered moot by an entirely new, pensive, luminous realism supported by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd’s gauzy, gorgeous score. At one point, one of the boys says, "I wished with all my heart we could just leave this world behind. Rise like two angels in the night and magically disappear."
The wonderful, brave thing about Araki's film is that in a cinema dedicated to selected amnesia on certain topics, Mysterious Skin makes two boys magically appear, luminous, beautiful and no longer alone.