Mysterious Skin

Ladymol's Review

Any movie made from a book as powerful and controversial as this one is going to have a tough challenge living up to the original story. I was doubtful that theyíd pull it off, but they have. Firstly, they cast a superb lead as Neil, the boy whose story is at the heart of the film. Has Joseph Gordon-Levitt ever done a bad scene in anything heís been in? What a versatile, amazing actor. He IS Neil in this film: cocky, vulnerable, damaged, charismatic, beautiful.

I think to be fair to the makers of the film, if theyíd included all the disturbing content of the book, they would never have got the go ahead for the project. At the heart of the novel, the child abuse inflicted upon Neil is related to us by Neil in a very positive light. Aged 8, he became the favoured toy of his little league coach, and Neil thrived on his attention. Itís the contrast between Neilís version and our superior knowledge (and better moral judgement) that makes the book so fascinating. Gradually, through the increasingly desperate plight of his life, Neil begins to see the abuse for the grotesque crime that it was. His newfound knowledge is helped along, of course, by Brian, the other victim of the coachís abuse. Brianís desperate search for a truth he cannot remember leads him to Neil. In telling Brian what happened, Neil discovers his own truths for the first time. Except for a little downplaying of Neilís positive recollections, the movie beautifully captures the pain and poignancy of these boysí lives.

To many homophobes, gay equals child abuse, and this film does little to dispel that idea. It also lends strength to the view that gay adults have often been subjected to child abuse. Gay encounters between the adults in the book are at best seedy and unpleasant, at worst, violent abuse. As I said, a controversial film. It seems to me that the author isnít required to tell any other story than the one he wants to. Thank God the PC brigade didnít get to this film and insist that a positive image of gay life was included for balance. No one is saying there isnít a positive side (this whole site is devoted to it after all); itís just not a side that Neil discovers and so itís not in this film.

This is not a film for a casual nightís viewing. It deserves more than that. Set up a special night and give this story the respect it deserves. Wonderful.

Cerisaye's Review

The film is about two boys both sexually abused aged 8 and their very different reactions:† Neil, played by Joseph Gordon Leavitt, is already sexualised by his home background (not so well brought out in the film as the book), and (itís implied) as a result of being molested, becomes a teenage hustler. Brian, a sweet innocent boy from a normal middle class family, goes the opposite way, staying very much childlike and asexual, Mummyís boy, geeky nerd.†

Neil regards what happened, that he was chosen by their Little League coach as his favourite boy, as a distorted form of love he seeks again with older men of the same type.† Brian has totally repressed what happened, and when he does begin to remember, through disturbing dreams mostly, finds an explanation in alien abduction- a very appropriate metaphor for child molestation as it turns out.† He finds support from another girl also an abductee weíre led to believe was abused too, probably by her father.

Neil remembers every detail with fond recollection as something (the only) positive in his life.† The Coach doesnít have a big part to play but we see enough to understand why Neil goes along with what he wants as heís cleverly seduced- abused children have to like and trust those who abuse them so they have to be attractive to them, nice, adults who show them attention they donít get elsewhere.† We know itís not right but we never blame Neil.† Neil brings other boys to the Coach because he wants to make him happy- he loves him.

Brian was so traumatised he had to forget everything but as he gets older discovers he needs to find out what happened if he is ever going to move on.

By way of self-protection Neil is super-cool, disaffected, disinterested, emotionless, until he goes to NYC.† There he experiences something even worse than the abuse he suffered in childhood, which was done out of twisted but tender and considerate form of love by a man who really did care for him in his own way.† Something regarded as taboo by society but appreciated by a far from innocent and very needy boy.†

The healing process is shown in a beautifully moving scene when they break into the coachís old house and Neil finally tells Brian exactly what happened when they were together.† I think really you need to see the film then read the book to get the whole story, including bits left out of the screenplay to make a shorter and more direct piece of work.†

Although the film features paedophilia itís not about that, but how it affects victims and possible ways they deal with abuse, learn to accept it and move on with their lives not allowing what happened to ruin their whole lives because they canít get past it.† Of course they will never forget but it doesnít have to destroy them.†

First, though, they have to see the truth, and both Neil & Brian are hiding from that in different ways.

Neil happens to be gay- he was already looking at pictures in his motherís Playgirl magazines- while Brian is most likely straight.† Itís important to make the distinction that being abused isnít going to make a boy turn gay.† Important too is the clear message that Neil is at least as damaged as Brian by what happened to them; because heís gay doesnít mean itís easier to accept that he was made to have sex as a boy.†

Itís a story about love, different forms of it, some more acceptable others definitely not, how to find it and what it means.† This isnít a gay movie, but one that should appeal to anyone, if you can take the disturbing content- violent rape more than the sex, which is quite tame and mostly suggests rather than shows, though the language is explicit and you know what theyíre doing.†

Like the book it left a profound impression on me.† I cried.† I felt the emotions of the characters so deeply it physically hurt.† It was real.† Some scars are visible on the skin while the deepest hurts often leave no obvious marks.†

JGL is incredibly sexy, and his performance mesmerising- when heís onscreen you simply canít take your eyes off him; he becomes Neil.† It is an intensely visual film, in a way that complements a powerful story.† Considering the subject is so dark and disturbing itís disconcertingly beautiful to look at.† Maybe that makes it easier to bear?† It certainly doesnít excuse paedophilia.† Perhaps weíre uncomfortable with it but it doesnít do any good to hide these things; thatís the message here, that sooner or later trauma like that will surface, and bringing it into the open is the only way to deal with it.† Yes Neil and Brian have experienced something no young person should ever have to cope with, but the tone of the film is actually quite positive, despite awful things that happen.†

If you havenít read the novel I suggest you do, preferably before seeing the film for a better understanding of whatís going on.† Itís a pretty good adaptation however, though seemed to me to end on a more positive note.