Two teenage boys – one, a nonchalant gay hustler, the other an introvert who believes he was abducted by aliens - are virtual strangers linked by a defining childhood event.
The self-appointed local guardians of morality did their best to strangle the theatrical release of Mysterious Skin, even suggesting that Gregg Araki’s film was somehow a “how-to” manual for the budding paedophile. Never mind the fact any widely available G-rated kiddie flick would probably offer more helpful insight into young tastes for the aspiring child-seducer. It’s likely the censors were more disturbed by a filmmaker who, like fellow indie provocateur Todd Solondz, dared to present a serious issue with a complexity not found in the usual media hysteria. Based on the novel by Scott Heim, Mysterious Skin charts the very different lives of two teenage boys – one, a nonchalant gay hustler (Gordon-Levitt, light years from his 3rd Rock From The Sun character) the other a nerdy introvert (Corbet) who believes he was abducted by aliens. Virtual strangers, the two are linked by a defining childhood event; yet only one of them remembers it. Their path to rediscovering each other, and that dark secret of memory, forms the basis of a skilfully arranged narrative that takes us from a perversely observed childhood nostalgia to a bleak, but redemptive, moment of watershed. Though we know well in advance what’s happening, Araki delays our revelation by keeping the emotional suspense at a high. It isn’t easy going – there are, make no mistake, some brutally wretched scenes – but the events are a context for what is, ultimately, a deeply affecting emotional journey. For Araki, once touted as the prince of “New Queer” cinema back in the early ’90s, the film may well go down as his career highlight. Never lacking for graphic style, Skin shows a director newly in command of his substance, capable of delivering both bold themes and subtexts within a taut narrative that his angsty films like The Doom Generation never managed. And what those censors failed to realise, of course, is that, by exploring the taboo topic of paedophilia in a humanist manner that avoids sensationalising or heavy-handed verdicts, Araki’s eloquent, sensitive film actually presents an indictment far stronger than any moral grandstander ever could.