I went to the movies last night with Frank and Jessica Renee Olivia. We went to see Mysterious Skin at Alamo Drafthouse. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a relatively unknown actor by the name of Brady Corbet as the central characters with appearances by Elisabeth Shue (The Karate Kid, Adventures in Babysitting, Leaving Las Vegas) and Michelle Trachtenberg (Dawn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The movie revolves around the lives of Neil (Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Corbet) and the events that happened to them the summer they were 8 years old. Brian believes aliens abducted him, blaming memory loss, blackouts and recurring nosebleeds on their experiments. Neil remembers every detail of his Little League coach sexually abusing him. The movie is a gritty, realistic look at the life altering damages of abuse in Neil's life. He willingly, even proudly becomes a prostitute at an early age, seemingly not for the much needed money but to fill the emptiness inside him. Brian is a social misfit living a lonely life and searching for answers.
The movie was hard to watch not only because of the voyeuristic camera angles during the abuse scenes, but also to see the progression of Neil from a carefree child to a jaded young man with vacant eyes. There are several scenes, one involving fireworks and the other a brutal rape that had me cringing in my seat. Those scenes are disturbing and harsh. The character of Brian didn't illicit the same emotional response as I had with Neil until near the end of the movie, when he starts putting the pieces of his puzzle together.
I think what made my viewing most difficult is that the movie is entirely believable and everything from the actors' costumes to the props were year-appropriate. This is a well made Indie flick that does what it is intended to do: make you feel what the characters are feeling and keep you thinking about it long after you've exited the theater. I understood why Neil & Brian's lives had become the way they were. I understood the progression from innocent childhood to unemotional adulthood. I sympathized with prostitution as a way to connect with another person instead of being an illegal way to earn money. Even the use of Neil & Brian's hometown as an implied "safe place" as compared to New York City, where Neil had gone to stay with a friend, is cause for reflection. The small town where Neil suffered months, possibly years of abuse, and where he first embarked on years of being a detached hustler is ultimately shown as his place of salvation.
If you go to see this movie, which has a limited run nationwide, please be aware that there are some sex scenes that may be shocking for the general public. No frontal nudity is shown, but the cinematography and acting imply enough for your mind to fill in the blanks. All three of us had very personal reactions to the film, so don't be surprised if you carry over your emotional reactions after the movie is over. Both Jessee and I agreed that the movie was difficult to process and we needed time to sort through it all.