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:: Mysterious Skin

I knew I was in for something interesting when I noticed Mysterious skin starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt of ‘Third Rock From the Sun’ fame, Michelle Trachtenberg from ‘Buffy’ and the director I most remember as making ‘That movie where a guy eats his own semen’ (Gregg Araki, The Doom Generation).

Gregg Araki's directing is always palpable in its schizophrenic nature. Swinging between ironic and intense, he favours coming-of-age films with oddly introspective scenes juxtaposed with moments of raw, over-the top energy. His funny, ironic moments are almost uneasy because I'm unsure who he's making fun of - himself, his audience, or the subjects of his movies.

It was fitting then, for him to direct a movie about a topic nobody feels comfortable with. Gordon-Levitt plays Neil, a teenage boy from a small Kansas town dealing with the sexual relationship he had with his little league coach when he was eight. Neil's story is entwined with fellow little leaguer Brian (Brady Corbett from Thirteen), who suffers black-outs and nose-bleeds stemming from a forgotten trauma when he was a child. Brian believes he was abducted by aliens with Neil and hunts him down to find the truth.

Surprisingly, the movie isn't despairingly morose. It confronts the torment of paedophilia head-on, but still manages to construct realistic and sensitive characters rather than just victims. There are a lot of disturbing scenes, and the film doesn't hold back the grit, but it allows enough levity to let the characters have a life outside of the trauma. Although they are constantly dealing with their pasts, they are allowed emotionally fulfilling relationships, if not sexual ones, in the present. The family homes of the two boys, although far from perfect, are loving sanctuaries that make the invasion of their childhoods seem more abhorrent.

Gordon-Levitt is astonishingly talented as the self-destructive Neil. Neil is incapable of a caring sexual relationship and appears emotionally blocked, confused by the affection and attraction he retrospectively feels towards his coach. Although dangerously prostituting himself without protection and callous of his close relationships, he does allow affection with his loving mother (Elizabeth Shue) and best friend Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg).

Mysterious Skin is based on the critically acclaimed first novel by Scott Heim. It's a film about facing the past, learning to deal with it, and surviving.