08 March 2007

Mysterious Skin

When I read Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim several years ago, the novel never left me. It was one of those rare books that disturb me so much, that I knew I would never read it again.

In 2004, Gregg Araki -whom until then had only directed films about the nihilistic LA youths, something that he was raised in, adapted the novel for the screen. The book was already hard to read, but could it be made for a wider audience?

The book and movie is begins in 1981, where two 8 year-old boys in the town of Hutchinson, Kansas -who play together on a Little League team - come into the orbit of their coach, who is a pedophile. Neil’s mother is promiscuous, and only pawned him off so she could go on dates, while Brian’s dad is emotionally distant, apparently disappointed with his life and son.

That summer, Neil is abused by the coach, and on one raining night, Brian is taken by the coach and raped.

But while Neil, more or less, accepts this situation that summer, he grows up to be a gay hustler, but Brian believes that he was abducted by aliens that summer night -and again that Halloween. As he grows up, his dreams of that night set him off looking for other people who have been abducted by aliens. As his obsession grows, he realizes that there is a connection between him and another boy named Neil and sets out to find him.

The opening scenes, where the boys are being abused is hard to watch, and I suppose that was the intention. But according to the director, he filmed those scenes in such away that the young actors where unaware of the sexual content.

The films stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who after hitting success with 3rd Rock From the Sun, has set a film career the see’s him choosing films that most young actors would avoid. Like his role in the teen film noir Brick (2005), he takes on the role of Neil with such gusto, and gives another bravo performance. Brian is played by newcomer Brady Corbet, and delivers a quirky performance as a teen who has to discover what happened to him when he was 8.

It’s a tough film to watch, and its not for the timid. But the performances are fabulous and Gordon-Levitt reminds me so much of Johnny Depp. In the sense, that is, that after TV success, Depp choose a film career out of the mainstream. Starring in small, independent or low-budget features where characterization and plots were more important than tent-pole films of the big studios.

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