Mysterious Skin (2004) Movie – Or how it wasn’t actually about UFOs

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A teenage hustler and a young man obsessed with alien abductions cross paths, together discovering a horrible, liberating truth.


First thing first, do not watch this movie if you’re sensitive or easily disturbed. I was not prepared at all to go where the movie took me and it definitely wasn’t in a UFO chase.

There’s a blue light. I’m in my Little League uniform, and a tall alien is hovering over me. Someone else is with me. Another boy, also in uniform.
Panther? That was the name of my baseball team.
Let’s see, uh…
The alien has big black eyes. He’s touching my face. I want to cry out for help, but I can’t. I can’t.

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Well, if you haven’t figured it out from the little quote above, it’s less about alien abductions and more about the impact a paedophile has over two kids he abused when they were part of the Little League team he coached. One boy remembers everything and lives his life according to what happened to him, the other has forgotten it and can only remember snippets in a dream where he thinks he was kidnapped by aliens.

Last thing I remember I was sitting on the bench… at my Little League game. It started to rain. What happened after that remains a pitch black void.

Brian, the child who had believed in an alien abduction, has found another nutcase from TV who was probably abused by her father – who had the same experiences: blackouts, fainting spells, missing time periods, and he goes to see her.

The aliens, they experiment on cattle because the poor things are so defenceless. Us, on the other hand, they can’t kill us, so they just leave behind the hidden memories of what they’ve done.
Which in a way is almost worse.

McCormick, the other kid, was a latent homosexual and he fell in love with his coach – who was the embodiment of everything he ever admired in a man:

He looked like the lifeguards, cowboys and firemen, I’d seen in the Playgirls that my mom kept stashed under her bed. Back then, I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. They were like, a gift I had to open in front of a crowd.

So Neil McCormick is groomed by this perverted coach and he lets himself be fondled and touched and be told that this is normal.

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So hold on to your hats, because you, the viewer, will see EVERYTHING. The first kiss, the gut wrenching before and after shot of a boy who’s been sexually abused and the effects – an 8-year old boy masturbating to his mother’s boyfriend while watching them having sex on his old play swing.
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It just happened. And after it was over, I looked down… at the mess on the floor. It was like a kaleidoscope had shattered. And when I swallowed, the taste of Coach’s tongue seared my mouth.

You liked it. It’s okay that you liked it. Everything’s gonna be okay.

I really wanted the parents to notice something – their kids spending waaay too much time with their coach, exhibiting unnatural behaviour, physiological responses, but no, nothing happened. Joseph Gordon Lewitt plays the teenage version of Neil beautifully. He’s aloof and looks vulnerable but engages in sexual encounters with a lot of men. Unknown men. No condoms.

He’s so beautiful. I can’t help it. He’s like a god.
You don’t have to tell me, I was infatuated with him too once. But I know all Neil’s secrets and there’s shit there you don’t even want to know about. Trust me.
Once I’m gone, you’ll be all Neil has and you have to understand one thing.
Where normal people have a heart, Neil McCormick’s has a bottomless black hole.
And if you don’t watch out, you can fall in and get lost forever.

What Neil is looking for in all these men is another coach, someone to love him and make him feel special and unique. You can see how lasting the effects of freaking grooming are. (If I was that kid’s mom I would have brought my shotgun out and gone hunting).

What really disappointed me is that Brian’s dad refused to help even though he knew what was happening. That’s a huge parenting fail.

“Something happened to me when I was little. Do you know what I’m talking about?
What happened to me that night I woke up bleeding in the cellar?
Where were you that night? God, I can tell you don’t even remember!”
“You’re drunk.”
“Quit avoiding the subject! I was bleeding, I kept passing out! I wet my fucking bed and you never asked why! And what about that Halloween when I blacked out again? Something happened to me both those nights! What do you know about it?
Tell me!”
“I’m sorry, Brian, I … I can’t help you.”

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This is a realistic account of the affects on the victims of child abuse and tells a compelling story of their plight.

But don’t expect a happy ending; there is some resolution but you know the battle continues and their struggle to overcome will go on.  It is hard to reconcile such young people but gaining justice is quite central, as is a belief they are accepted and worthwhile human beings. Because they may have been sexually aroused during the abuse they can often feel guilty and to blame. They often internalise these feelings and depending on their personalities they will implode against themselves (drugs etc) and/or become de-sensitised to certain feelings and take risks.

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I can’t imagine a lot of actors lining up to play the boylover coach, but Bill Sage does very well. In the story, his role doesn’t seem like a pure predator, but clearly he has devices at work. He’s in the right place at the right time.

The movie is painful to watch and filled with violence and there is one really terrible rape scene towards the end of the movie. And when the disclosure finally comes, you find out how the two abused children were linked together:

Anytime there was another boy involved,  it was always the same. Coach used me as a prop to pull you in.  He’d take off my clothes and it was up to me to make it seem like fun, like this is a really cool game we were playing.
Go ahead, show him, Neil.

I viewed it alone and with a complete open mind, as its most times required to really soak in the mood of such films. It took me in and really got to me. This style film is definitely meant to look deeper into relationships, and why people are the way they are.

 

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