Mysterious Skin (2004)

The film opens with a white backdrop and blurred images of froot loops showering down, it slowly focus on a raven haired boy who is smiling jubilantly, blithely. Then come a voice over:

The summer I was 8 years old, five hours disappeared from my life. Five hours. Lost. Gone without a trace.

Contains spoiler and graphic language of sexual nature, be warned.

The voice-over source is Brian (Brady Corbet), shy, quite, and awkward, growing up to be a social recluse, avid-UFO believer. While the raven haired boy is Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), former little league star (brilliantly played by Chase Ellison) turn promiscuous male hustler. They both shared a memories that summer 11 years ago. but the incident have took them to a different path in their lives.

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Scott Heim, director/writer Gregg Araki deliver a raw, unapologetic story about youths’ lost of innocence, sex, and growing up. It all started with a pedophiliac coach in a little league team.

Young Neil come from a broken home, searching for a father figure and constant need of attention from his impetuous mother. From early age he shown attraction towards men from his mother playgirl magazine. His baseball coach become his first crush and a source of his much needed attention. He was still an outgoing child and formed a lasting friendship with Wendy as they grew togeher.

Brian come from a complete family, albeit an overbearing mother. After the incident happened when he was 8 years old he suffers from a psychogenic amnesia and involuntary epistaxis triggered by sudden memories recollection. He believes in UFO, he theorized that his memory lost was caused by an abduction by the extra terrestrial being.

10 years passed. Neil become a promiscuous male hustler that taken a liking in older gentleman, compulsively want to please them as how he had identify his baseball coach. He had sex with random strangers he met in a play park and odd places before he move to New York and be with Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) because he just want to move out. In New York we learned there are several points that explains Neil dynamics in having sexual encounters, albeit him whoring himself, he lacks of knowledge in sex itself, he have no idea of safe sex (this means he’s been barebacking before, which explain his STD) and he always the recipient of penetrative sex before. There were moments of hesitancy within this encounters that made me question whether he does prostitution because of money or is there another psychological drive in him that wired that way (a form of aftermath from his childhood experience).

Brian grew up more withdrawn, quite, and perceived as asexual by others. He’s definitely uncomfortable with touches of strangers. He documented his flashes of memories of flashback, dreams, any thing at all in his journal. When he had recurring dreams about a raven haired boy (Neil), believe the boy is the key to his lost memory, possibly abducted by the same alien as well. When he found the connection and address, he missed Neil by the slightest, as he already left for New York that same day. He befriends Eric (Jeffrey Licon) a mutual friend of Neil and Wendy. Through Eric he found a form of friendship as well as the help he need to contact Neil.


This film might be about children molestation and sexual abuse, but it does not feature graphic portrayal of the incident. In fact, there are very few graphic depiction of the act, but it depicts the harshness, the violence and coldness, the unsentimental and detached nature of it. One of the most disturbing scene has a surprisingly tenderness to it, when Neil was hired by an HIV positive client with Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions all over his skin (a visible symptoms of AIDS), and the man said: ‘This is gonna be the safest encounter you ever had. If you could just rub my back, really, i need to be touch’ and he tears up as Neil touches him and said repeatedly ‘yes, yes, yes, make me happy, make me happy, make me happy‘. It was

Clearly both boys have been traumatized by their experience. The ways they deal with the experience are so different from one another, as different as the experience manifested in them. It made them who they are today it was still being processed especially without any assistance from adults around them.The movie is not a cautionary tale. It discovers and dig deep into the struggle of the two character. It analyse and did not pass prejudice. A complex piece that unraveled in its tragic beauty.

“It was a light that shone over our faces, our wounds and scars. It was a light so brilliant and white it could have been beamed from heaven, and Brian and I could have been angels, basking in it. But it wasn’t, and we weren’t.”
― Scott Heim, Mysterious Skin.

Unapologetic and harsh, but tender and heartwrenching at the same time. Gregg Araki made an eloquent film on the subject of long-term emotional damage from childhood trauma. Aided by a great cast (including the child actors haunting performance), helmed Joseph Gordon-Levitt, showing realistic yet elaborate emotional upheaval throughout the film. A definite must see!

More information on IMDb | Official Site | The Book

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4 thoughts on “Mysterious Skin (2004)

  1. There’s the time when I got JGL-fever.
    ohhh okay, I made the term, after (500) Days of Summer, I was born to be a new JGL shipper and then… I followed his works before 500 DoS, from 10 Things I Hate about You, Brick, Havoc and… the most memorable is Mysterious Skin. JGL’s acting and the kid who played Neil is just so great, and both of them delivered this sad story became… well, beautiful. Damn, I don’t mean beautiful, but they made me stuck at my telly’s screen
    Have you watched Araki’s new movie, Kaboom? Not as great as MS I thought

    • Ah everyone got JGL-fever i think :D mine personally came after seeing him in Inception. Which is absurd since i saw him in 10 Things and 3rd Rock sitcom before! but he was this itty bitty high-pitched kid, the smile still adorable tho XD
      This film really stood out isn’t it, both kid Neil (THAT EYES!) and JGL did a great job. It was also Araki’s finest IMHO.
      I did! Haha Kaboom was amusing XD I wrote a review for it, i think it should be published tomorrow or the day after (didnt remember the schedule)

  2. Pingback: Kaboom (2010) | kinema kinema to karamel

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