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June 17, 2005

Mysterious Skin

Gregg Araki - 2005
35mm, Regal 18 South Beach

Is it possible to talk about this film without giving away the plot to those who haven't seen this film? Should it matter? Maybe the best possition to take is that the best critical writing about film is that which is like a conversation between two people who have both seen the film in question.

I think it is possible to read Mysterious Skin as a film about gay self-loathing. The narrative about Nick is that while he acknowledges his attraction to men at the age of eight, and enjoys his sexual experiences with the coach, he views his sexuality as something to be exploited for personal profit, and expresses contempt for most of his tricks. Nick's voice over indicates that had he not had the relationship with the coach, he probably would not have become a hustler. The tricks in this film are presented as unattractive, needy or in the last instance, sociopathic. Nick's healthiest relationship is the platonic relationship with Wendy, that is to say healthy because of the mutual caring, although one can of course argue that the relationship is healthy because no sex is involved.

Brian's narrative about being abducted by aliens is Araki's literalization of the concept of being alienated from one's self. By the time the picture of the alien with human legs and baseball shoes is pointed out, the plot is figured out for the audience. Brian's withdrawel when offered a desparate blow job from a woman who may be a fellow UFO abductee, seems to have have more to do with a sense of revulsion to sex in general, than with the potential partner being unattractive physically or being a woman.

Nick is described at one point as being like a remote planet, with the people in his life as moons that revolve around him while he remains indifferent. That discription is analagous to how the characters in this film exist. In most of Araki's films the characters are loners who feel alienated from others, as well as from themselves. Interaction with other people is more often than not both painful and destructive. The closest Araki comes to a viable family unit is the menage-a-trois of two men and one woman. Even that relationship is at best fragile as illustrated by Splendor and The Doom Generation.

Araki's seems to have fun with his own literalness by having the eight year old Nick showered with Fruit Loops. Not only do we see Nick seduced on a floor littered with breakfast cereal, but we have a visual reference to the slang usually used by children.

The plot description to Araki's newest film, involving aliens and Malibu teens seems to be a combination of subject matter from Mysterious Skin and Nowhere.

This being said, Araki has apparantly felt that he has yet to exhaust the themes and characters of his previous films. In Araki's films are alienation, and lately alien nation. Sex is at best a brief pleasure. Although Araki is often identified as a "gay" film maker because of the actions of some of his characters, these same characters can be said to be more ambivalent about their sexuality. Araki himself may be sexually ambivalent judging from how sex is often equated with death or psychic damage.

If the conclusion to Mysterious Skin is any indication, Araki suggests that the best we can hope for is another person to talk to who can help make sense of an anarchic and uncaring world.

Posted by peter at June 17, 2005 04:50 PM