Eight year old Brian Lackey (George Webster) wakes up in the cupboard under the stairs of his Kansas home with his nose bleeding and no idea how he got there or how long ago. A decade later Brian (Brady Corbet) still has a blank about that night and comes to believe he was abducted by aliens. Brian's search for what happened to him leads him to Neil (Chase Ellison), his Little League friend of those days, who is now also 18, but the adult Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been living his life as a gay prostitute and has moved to New York. When Neil returns to his Kansas home town for Christmas, he is confronted by Brian, and recalls the sexually graphic events of their childhood involving their coach (Bill Sage); both young men realize how those events shaped their lives.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Following in the footsteps of many (especially French) directors who use the personal narrative device to give the audience a subjective point of view, Gregg Araki makes this a searing film of intense experiences. Not unlike Australia's Ana Kokkinos with Head On, Araki shoots scenes which are not only highly charged sexually, but which are emotionally propelled by our association with the character. It's not a third party viewing, like some porno flick; we're involved.
Adding to the supercharged nature of these scenes is the root of the story: 8 year olds being introduced to sex by their sports coach. The added complication for us in moral and aesthetic terms is that a) the coach is not a dirty old man but a handsome young guy, and b) that Neil is a somewhat willing if naive participant.
Araki's adaptation of Scott Heim's novel is a blistering screenplay that digs into the after effects of those young sexual experiences, and how the affect on the two boys is so totally different - yet equally damaging. At the same time, the film is not preaching nor moralising, and to its credit, we are given breathing room to explore the extraordinary complexities of the story.
The performances are extraordinary, pulsing with veracity and a bitter sweet naturalism, painful and profound. Savage in its depiction of Neil's gay hustling encounters, graphic in its revelations of the inner pain inflicted on its characters and unflinching in its closing resolution, the film is a riveting original that some may find almost too agonising to experience.
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MYSTERIOUS SKIN (R)
CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg, Jeff Licon, Bill Sage, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Elisabeth Shue, with Chase Ellison, George Webster, Lisa Long, Chris Mulkey
PRODUCER: Mary Jane Skalski, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Greg Araki
DIRECTOR: Gregg Araki
SCRIPT: Gregg Araki (novel by Scott Heim)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven Gainer ASC
EDITOR: Gregg Araki
MUSIC: Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Devorah Herbert
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 18, 2005
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.