Gregg Araki’s first adaptation, “Mysterious Skin,” is based on Scott Heim’s critically acclaimed novel of the same title. Less devastating than the novel, the film depicts a challenging subject matter with an aesthetically mind-bending and vivid style. In contrast to the story, which is dark and unsettling, the cinematography is as lush and beautiful as cotton candy. Araki incorporates icons of suburban childhood — colorful cereals, Halloween costumes and Polaroids — in his portrayal of two children being molested by their Little League baseball coach.
With a loving mother, (Elisabeth Shue) who is negligent enough to have sex with her boyfriend in the backyard, young Neil perceives his Little League coach’s (Bill Sage) interest in him as love. Brian, on the other hand, completely suppresses his experiences with the coach and believes those hours of mystery to be due to an alien abduction. Neil experiments with strange men to satisfy his curiosity in sex, careless in his choices, while Brian searches for an explanation to his lost childhood memories. Eleven years later Brian turns up at Neil’s door.
Neil’s voyage introduces a homophobic gay monster, an AIDS patient in need of affection and men who can’t have sex without drugs. All these encounters are portrayed with starkness and deliver heightened emotion. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s performance is stunning. He conveys Neil’s character with subtlety, demonstrating Neil’s affliction with his actions and his eyes. Brady Corbet is equally adept in portraying Brian, delivering a distress and innocence that makes the viewer want to take care of him.
“Mysterious Skin” is less outrageous than Araki’s former films. It is a film about child abuse more so than it is about homosexuality. The story is heartbreaking, the acting is brilliant and the cinematography is breathtaking. Araki takes a dark subject and illustrates it with an absolute aesthetic splendor that pulls the viewer in and shocks them even more when they realize what is happening. Perhaps that is what makes the film as visceral as it is. “Mysterious Skin” is not for everyone, but it surely is one of the most powerful and moving films of the last few years.Rating: A