Oct 24, 2014
Judging by his gloriously morally retarded black comedies like The Doom Generation (1995), Nowhere (1997), and more recently, Kaboom (2010), Jap-American New Queer Cinema auteur Gregg Araki seems like he would be one of the most ill-equipped filmmakers for making a serious and responsible film about childhood traumas and the long-term effects of being molested as a pre-adolescent boy, yet he somehow made one of the best, most daring, and shockingly honest films on the subject, as if he himself was a victim of such abuse. Of course, as Araki’s film, Mysterious Skin (2004)—a vaguely autobiographical work based on gay New England-based novelist Scott Heim's 1996 novel of the same name—audaciously reveals, many homosexuals were molested by older men as children, thus indicating that there is indeed a certain unofficial ‘recruiting’ subculture of queerdom and that NAMBLA might not be a lunatic fringe of the fag world after all. Somewhat paradoxically, despite being quite unnerving as a work that features child molestation and a violent rape scene, the film also manages to be an aesthetically pleasing experience, which largely has to do with its ambient score, including songs by Slowdive (the film opens with their cover of the Syd Barrett song “Golden Hair”), Cocteau Twins, Sigur Rós, as well as various ethereal dream-sequences and ‘fantasy’ scenes. Like a coming-of-age story in reverse, Mysterious Skin tells the tale of two very different young men—an introverted and seemingly autistic asexual nerd and an exceedingly extroverted homo hustler—who are eternally united due to the fact that they were both molested a decade previously at the age of 8 by their peewee league baseball coach, with one of the boys even actively taking part in the molesting of the other. While the nerdy boy developed dissociative amnesia as a means to cope with being molested and now believes he was abducted by aliens during those hours from the past that he cannot remember, the young prick-peddler remembers the events vividly and rather sickly sees them as a sort of sexual awakening as opposed to child abuse. Featuring a truly horrifying Halloween scene where a young boy molests another boy with the misguided belief that he will not tattle, as well as references to zombie flicks like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and J.R. Bookwalter’s The Dead Next Door (1989) and ultra-kitschy scenes of UFOs and alien abductions, I thought re-watching Araki’s film would be a more unconventional way to get in the spirit of All Hallows' Eve. Indeed, if you’re looking for a film that might give you nightmares and are tired of devouring brainless celluloid zombie shit, Mysterious Skin makes for a most preternaturally disturbing experience like no other, as a work that takes an unsentimental look at the tragic long-term effects of losing one's innocence while still just a vulnerable wee lad.
During the summer of 1981 when they were both just 8 years old, Kansas country boys Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian Lackey (Brady Corbet) were molested by their little league baseball Coach (Bill Sage), who is a considerably masculine man that looks like he walked off the set of one of sadomasochistic sodomite Fred Halsted’s films (somewhat notably, like the director of LA Plays Itself, the coach also has a rather repellant fist fetish, albeit of the boy-oriented sort). Both boys came from badly broken homes, with Neil being the bastard son of a whorish dipsomaniac single mother (Elisabeth Shue) and Brian being the progeny of two parents that were about to divorce, thus making them the perfect prey for a predatory pedophile. While Neil enjoyed the experience of being molested and saw it as a sexual awakening of sorts (after all, as he describes, his molester resembled the sort of macho men that intrigued him in his slut mother’s Playgirl magazines), Brian was so traumatized by those events that he cannot remember them and believes he was abducted by aliens due to the fact that he cannot remember five hours from his childhood and routinely bled from his nose and wet his bed for a good portion of his life, hence his Asperger-like obsession with all-things alien. Not surprisingly, Neil grew up to be a quasi-psychopathic hustler who enjoys being blown by middle-age men with mustaches for money, whilst Brian degenerated into a sexless nerd that lives in a fantasy world full of alien abductions.
While Neil makes a fairly decent living peddling his ass and acting as the announcer of local baseball games (where men give him blowjobs while he announces!), he cannot stand the homo-hating hicks of his area (or as he states himself, “I’m so fuckin’ sick of this stinky little buttcrack of a town!”) and he has already “fucked every single guy and his ugly uncle” in his “podunk town,” so, like many young fags that are looking to ‘find themselves’ and be around like-minded folks, he opts to leave his mother and racially dubious queer buddy Eric Preston (Jeff Licon) for the big city where he plans to live with his lifelong platonic soul-mate Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg). Naturally, after arriving in the rotten Big Apple, Neil spends most of his time wandering the streets and selling his tiny twink tail to a much larger and more eclectic clientele that he is used to, including an athletic fellow who likes taking it from behind from scrawny twinks, as well as an old queen dying from AIDS. Upon arriving in New York City, Neil soon learns that he cannot be as sexually careless as he was in rural Kansas, as STDs are all over the place. Indeed, after having a date with an old queer named Zeke (played by perennial screen villain Billy Drago of Clint Eastwood’s classic 1985 western Pale Rider and Brian De Palma’s 1987 hit The Untouchables) whose body is covered in Kaposi sarcoma (KS) marks and merely wants a backrub from the boy because it has been so long since another person touched him, Neil is ‘scared straight’ and decides to quit peddling his man-pussy and gets a minimum wage job as a cashier. Despite quitting hustling, Neil is subsequently savagely raped by a vicious self-loathing shit-stabbing redneck, who forces his victim to snort some coke before being rectally reamed. The experience of being raped ultimately proves to be 'worthwhile' for Neil because, while he felt like he was in control when he was being molested by his coach when he was an 8-year-old boy, being violently buggered by a boorish pig makes him truly realize what it is like to be defiled against one's own will, thus enabling him to better empathize with Brian's precarious predicament when he meets him at the end of the film.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old banal bitch boy Brian contacts a crippled farm girl named Avalyn Friesen (Mary Lynn Rajskub) after seeing a documentary about her featuring her discussing how she was abducted and probed by aliens over twenty times. Being a weirdo country cripple that lives in the middle of nowhere who clearly has a hard time finding a good man, Avalyn immediately writes back to Brian and covers her letter in cheap perfume. While Brian soon develops a strong bond with Avalyn due to their mutually unhealthy obsession with space aliens, mutilated cattle, and crop circles, he abruptly decides to stop talking to her after she attempts to jump his seemingly impotent bones. If there is anything that is for sure, it is that being molested as a boy has totally destroyed Brian’s ability to not only have sex, but to love other people. With Avalyn’s help, Brian figures out that Neil, who has haunted his dreams since the fateful night when he was raped at the age of 8, was one of the players on his little league baseball team, so he goes looking for the young hustler in the hope that he will be able to help him connect the dots regarding his hazy childhood. Unfortunately, Neil is still in NYC, so Brian hangs out with his punk queer friend Eric and learns that the hustler will be back in Kansas around Christmas time.
Before Neil arrives in town, Brian spends a lot of time with homo punk-goth queen Eric, who proudly corrupts the autistic teen on his 19th birthday by getting him drunk. On Christmas Eve 1991, Brian wakes and declares, “this is the day.” Indeed, Xmas Eve is the day that Brian learns that he was not abducted by aliens, but rather probed by his cocksucker baseball coach. When Brian meets Neil, he brings them to the house where the baseball coach who molested both of them used to live. After breaking into the coach’s home, Neil nostalgically shows Brian around the place and explains how he was the child-fucker coach’s “favorite” and how he “felt honored.” As Brian explains to Neil, the coach would ply the boys with Atari games and other treats and would eventually coerce them into letting him go down on them, among other things. The coach used his ‘favorite’ Neil to lure the other boys in, including Brian, with both boys taking turns shoving their entire arms up the pedo’s ass. Neil also describes to Brian how after being molested, his face looked like he had been “erased” and “empty inside.” In the end, Brian collapses and breaks down after Neil tells him how he was molested. Needless to say, Brian would have probably preferred being abducted by asshole-probing aliens over becoming the victim of a charismatic baseball-loving pedophile.
Ironically, despite the innately offensive nature of most of Gregg Araki’s previous works, Mysterious Skin is shockingly inoffensive, even if it features a number of haunting and disturbing scenes, which leads me to believe that the auteur had the most pure intentions and that he may have been molested himself. While Araki’s most recent film, White Bird in a Blizzard (2014), is in a similar vein in terms of seriousness and its understated approach to drama, it is ultimately much less potent than Mysterious Skin, which is probably a work that the director will never top. Next to the distinctly dark and dreary films of gay Spanish auteur Agustí Villaronga whose debut feature Tras el cristal (1987) aka In a Glass Cage probably features the most disturbing depiction of a relationship between a pedophile and his victim ever committed to celluloid, as well as Michael Cuesta’s L.I.E. (2001) starring Brian Cox as a pederast who develops an unlikely bond with a young Jewish boy played by Paul Dano, Araki’s film indubitably features one of the most mature and intricately nuanced depictions of child molestation in cinema history, which probably does not say much considering the scarcity of such films, but there is no denying that Mysterious Skin is a uniquely unforgettable work that reminds one why pedos are probably worse than serial killers in terms of the malignant damage they do. Needless to say, Araki’s film is not something you would probably want to re-watch often and I assume that it might make for especially traumatic viewing for real-life victims of sex abuse. As much as I cannot stand gawky heeb Joseph Gordon-Levitt and cannot think of another single decent film that he stars in, somehow he pulls off the whole psychopathic hustler role in Araki’s film (interestingly, in the audio commentary for the TLA Releasing DVD of the film, Gordon-Levitt confesses that starring in Araki’s film made him realize that, “acting and prostitution are kind of similar”). Certainly, one of the most brave and provocative aspects of the film is that it demonstrates that some molestation victims grow up to be very repugnant individuals who become just as eager to molest as their molesters, with Gordon-Levitt very aptly and eerily acting the part of such a distinctly deranged individual. A contra Lifetime channel film, Araki's dejecting movie offers a more than decent argument as to not only why it is probably not a good idea to raise a child in a broken home, but also why peddling your ass to middle-aged men with mustaches can only have nothing short of deleterious effects. More than an independent film about child molestation, Mysterious Skin is a work that also metaphysically molests the viewer.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 1:56 AM
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