Published Jun 01, 2005As one of the lonely few who appreciated Gregg Araki when he was young and scary, it's hard for me not to feel a little vindicated by the positive press for Mysterious Skin. But they've got it all wrong when they say he's "matured," by which they mean that he's put away childish things and become a nice social realist "saying things" about "our culture." Rather, his love affair with damaged and sometimes queer youth has merely broadened, this time taking on a "both sides now" exploration of trauma avoidance.
His two protagonists are hopeless nerd Brian (Brady Corbet) and alienated extrovert Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), both victims of the same child molester and both buried in denial. Where Brian's defence is a flighty obsession with UFO abduction, Neil becomes the consummate hustler and sexual plaything, and their advance/retreat dichotomy shows the helplessly creative ways people mismanage unbearable events.
Araki's candy-coated abstract style is a tad at odds with his least Godard-ian script (from a novel by Scott Heim), and he hasn't quite mastered the art of directing naturalistic performances; he's also better at dealing with Neil than Brian, the latter of whom is coated in a patina of hand-me-down nerdisms by a man who never passed a test in his life.
But the structure is sound, the implications are vast and the approach is so uncompromising that it transcends its flaws, and in detailing the downward spirals and holding patterns of its heroes, it is immensely moving even when it can't find the catharsis it so desperately wants. Plus, Billy Drago in the supporting turn of the year, as an AIDS-ravaged john who just wants his back rubbed. (Alliance Atlantis)