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Mysterious Skin

Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2008 in Movies, Reviews

When I saw Mysterious Skin, I actually thought it would be more UFO-related than it was.

I knew it would be about children who were sexually abused, so I was prepared for it being upsetting. It was, but it was also fascinating and touching. I also have to say that I appreciated the fact that unlike in many other movies and books, it wasn’t girls who were abused.

I’m not sure what to say about this movie. It’s really good and interesting, but also sad. Despite that, you might say that it had a hopeful ending.

Perhaps I should mention something about the plot first. The main character is Neil, a little boy who is the son of a single mother. She has many different boyfriends, and from an early age Neil discovers that his mother’s grown up boyfriends turn him on. Naturally not in the way that he’d like to have a relationship with them, but he does like to watch his mother having sex with them.

One day he meets a man who is considerably more interested in him than other grown men usually are. It’s his baseball coach. Back in those days – the 1980’s – parents weren’t as suspicious of that sort of thing as they are today, so Neil’s mother is just grateful that there’s a male role model willing to take an interest in her son.

You realize early on that there’s something not quite right about this relationship. I read that the boys playing two of the characters as children, never found out the truth about what the movie was really about. They were told it was about alien abduction. In one particular scene I don’t know how they managed to keep up the deception.

Neil has a best friend/faghag, Wendy, who is a willing participant in all his stunts, until she leaves for New York to get a better and more interesting life. It’s typical for this movie that despite the fact that Wendy ‘only’ gets to be a waitress, she’s not the one who ends up being abused. She does well for herself.

They have another friend, Eric, who is clearly gay, but who hasn’t been sexually assaulted as a child, so he isn’t as disturbed as Neil. When Neil (who Eric is in love with) goes off to New York to visit Wendy, Eric meets a new guy, Brian, who seems to be completely asexual. They end up being friends, but Eric soon realizes that his new friend is trying to find out what happened to him as a child. He has mysterious memory lapses and sometimes he suffers inexplicable nosebleeds. It turns out that the two boys – Neil and Brian – have something in common.

I won’t tell you how the movie ends, but I do think the ending isn’t as unhappy as it might be, considering the fact that it’s about little boys being sexually abused, a young man selling sex to older men and contains a gay rape scene. I have to warn you about that one though. It very disturbing and upsetting.

I’d like to mention a minor character. During the course of his search, Brian runs into a woman who thinks she’s been abducted by aliens. Avalyn Friesen. She’s a really tragic character, who can come across as comical, but I feel dreadfully sorry for her. You soon get the impression that she’s been sexually abused herself, as a child, and that she can’t handle it, and has made up farfetched explanations to all the things that don’t add up in her memories. The actress does a great job, I think.

So do all the actors. They’ve appeared in many other tv series and movies before. Neil is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, from Third Rock from the Sun. Wendy (as a grownup) is played by Michelle Trachtenberg, from Harriet, the Spy and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The woman who plays the tragic Avalyn has been in 24, among other things.

I can really recommend this movie, but bear in mind that there are some upsetting scenes in it.

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