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Mysterious Skin
2005 - NR - 99 Mins.
Director: Gregg Araki
Producer: Gregg Araki
Written By: Scott Heim
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg, William Sage, Elizabeth Shue
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site:
A surprisingly touching and poetic film, ‘Mysterious Skin’ is an unusual balance of gentle and brutal elements as we watch how two young men deal with the aftermath of child abuse.

Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, ‘Third Rock from the Sun’) is a hardened hustler on the streets of small town Hutchinson, Kansas. Self-destructive, cocky and unapologetically narcissistic, Neil prowls the schoolyards, football fields and locals bars, picking up older, married men. His best friends, Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg, ‘Eurotrip’) and Eric (Jeffrey Licon ‘Joan of Arcadia’), dream of getting out of the stifling little town, and they warn Neil constantly about the dangers of hustling. Wendy also warns Eric, who has a crush on Neil, that Neil only has “a black hole where a heart should be.”

When Neil was eight years old (Chase Ellison), he was abused by his baseball coach (Bill Sage) and seduced into shocking sex role-playing. While his relationship with his coach evolves, we see the young Neil turn into a hard-edged sexual predator, sharing his secrets only with Wendy. It’s devastating to watch his loss of innocence, as Neil becomes cruel and abusive to other kids.

On the other side of town, another young man, Brian (Brady Corbet, ‘The Thunderbirds’) has nightmares about alien abductions. He vividly recalls that when he was eight years old, aliens abducted him a number of times. And on the ship, lying there naked on an examination table, Brian remembers seeing another boy – Neil – but it’s a fleeting glimpse, a fragment of his memory. He is obsessed with UFO’s and alien abduction, trying desperately to reach out to other UFO abductees to explain his loss memories. He decides to track down Neil, a boy he only remembers as being on his baseball team.

Either boy’s story would have a compelling film in itself. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Scott Heim, ‘Mysterious Skin’ ends up being a highly original tale about the defense mechanisms the mind can create to protect itself from trauma. There’s an interesting balance between an almost bleak, after school special and the surreal as director, Greg Araki, leads a talented cast, which includes Elizabeth Shue (‘Leaving Las Vegas’), through a story that’s like a whodunit as Brian discovers what actually happened to him as a child.

Gordon-Levitt, delivers a biting and brave performance reminiscent of a young Keanu Reeves in the similarly themed, ‘My Own Private Idaho.’ It's a riveting performance that will do much to distance himself from his TV persona. And Corbet, who made his movie debut in the kid’s flick, ‘The Thunderbirds,’ is a real discovery as his character is a painfully nerdy and shy. Both young men portray damaged goods, and it’s gripping to watch them deal with the past in very different ways.

Vividly shot by indie hero, Gregg Araki, the film plays with the constant theme of duality as it's neither as bleak nor as depressing as one might assume, given the subject matter. Smart, painful and unforgettably bittersweet, ‘Mysterious Skin’ is one of the best dramas of the year.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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