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Mysterious Skin

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Title: Mysterious Skin  
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Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gregg Araki
Produced by Gregg Araki
Screenplay by Gregg Araki
Based on Mysterious Skin 
by Scott Heim
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Brady Corbet
Michelle Trachtenberg
Mary Lynn Rajskub
Elisabeth Shue
Music by Harold Budd
Robin Guthrie
Cinematography Steve Gainer
Edited by Gregg Araki
Distributed by Tartan Films
Release dates
  • September 3, 2004 (2004-09-03) (Venice)
Running time
105 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,524,966[2]

Mysterious Skin is a 2004 Dutch-American drama film directed by American filmmaker Gregg Araki, who also wrote the screenplay based on Scott Heim's 1995 novel of the same name. The film is Araki's eighth, premiering at the 61st Venice International Film Festival in 2004, although it was not more widely distributed until 2005.

Mysterious Skin tells the story of two pre-adolescent boys who are sexually abused by their baseball coach, and how it affects their lives in different ways into their young adulthood. One boy becomes a reckless, sexually adventurous male prostitute, while the other retreats into a reclusive fantasy of alien abduction.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Reception 4
    • Rating issues 4.1
  • Soundtrack 5
  • Awards 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Born in 1972 in Kansas, 8-year-olds Neil McCormick and Brian Lackey are sexually abused by their baseball coach. Both boys are targets for abuse due to their dysfunctional families: Neil's single mother, Ellen, is neglectful and preoccupied with a string of boyfriends, while Brian's parents are on the verge of divorce.

Neil showed homosexual proclivities at an early age—he was fascinated with male models depicted in his mother's Playgirl magazines. He interprets the coach's abuse as an initiation into sexuality and becomes sexually compulsive, being mainly attracted to bearish, middle-aged men. Neil begins to prostitute himself at the age of fifteen. Eventually he leaves home, drifts into petty crime, and becomes a prostitute in New York City. His friend Wendy, who harbors an unrequited crush, describes Neil as having not a heart, but "a bottomless black hole, that you fall into." Neil does begin to show a compassionate side, particularly following an encounter with a man who was dying from AIDS, and wanted nothing more than a backrub, only to feel touched. The encounter leaves Neil to withdraw from his life as a prostitute and take a job as a cashier. One day on his way home, he is tricked by a large man into giving him a ride home. The man makes him snort cocaine before raping and beating him.

Brian reacts to the abuse by developing nerdy and withdrawn, perceived by others as nearly asexual. He has unsettling recurring dreams about being touched by a strange, bluish hand. These odd dreams lead Brian to suspect that he and another boy may have been abducted by aliens. At the age of 18, Brian meets a young woman named Avalyn who also believes she was abducted by aliens. They begin to form a fragile friendship, but when she takes a romantic interest in him and touches him sexually, he reacts with intense panic and refuses to speak to her again.

While trying to untangle his confused memories, Brian sees a photo of his childhood baseball team, recognizing a young Neil as the boy from his bizarre dreams. Taking the initiative to meet his former teammate, Brian instead meets Neil's friend Eric, and through him learns about their common acquaintance. After being beaten and raped by a trick, Neil leaves New York City and returns home. Eventually, the two young men meet for the first time in over a decade. After breaking into the home that was previously rented by the baseball coach, Neil explains how the coach groomed both boys to make the abuse seem normal and acceptable, and how a bluish porch light shining through the bedroom window gave the abusive incidents an eerie atmosphere. He then told Brian that the coach made them kiss each other before he kissed them both and then made them perform sexual acts on him. Brian breaks down and collapses into Neil's arms as Christmas carolers sing Silent Night.



Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Trachtenberg, by the time the film went into production, were looking for independent films where making money was not the main goal.[3] Trachtenberg was filming EuroTrip (2004) in Prague when she first received the script, and quickly decided to join production.[3] Gordon-Levitt was especially praiseful of Araki for allowing him to join production, and commented in a 2005 interview: "It is a really different role for me, and I'll always be really grateful to Gregg for believing that I could do a role like this. I've played the nice kid, and the smart one or funny one and even the angry one, but Gregg was the first one to call me sexy, and I'll always be really grateful for that."[3] Araki approached Gordon-Levitt, who was by then struggling to find work for over a year, after seeing him in Manic (2001).[4] Made on a low budget, filming commenced in August 2003 and lasted only three weeks, which gave the cast and crew no possibility of doing retakes.[3]

A number of measures were taken to avoid exposing the child actors to the sexual and abusive aspects of the story. Although their parents were given the entire shooting script to review, the boys were given separate scripts which included only the activities they would be performing, and their roles and the characters' relationships were explained to them in innocent terms. All of the sexual abuse involving children is implied rather than being directly depicted, and the scenes in which this seduction and abuse takes place were filmed with each actor performing alone and addressing the camera rather than the other actor, then edited together, so the children did not see or hear the performance by the adult actor playing the abuser. (This subjective approach to filming was consequently used in various places throughout the film.)[5][6]


Mysterious Skin received very positive reviews. The film received an 84% "fresh" rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 103 reviews with an average rating of 7.3 out of 10. The sites consensus states: "Bold performances and sensitive, spot-on direction make watching this difficult tale of trauma and abuse a thought-provoking, resonant experience."[7] On Metacritic, which uses a "metascore", the film holds 73 out of 100 based on 32 reviews.[8]

Lou Lumenick from the New York Post commented, "Not for the squeamish, but it is a beautifully crafted and thoughtful film that genuinely provokes."[9] Ella Taylor from LA Weekly wrote “A warped, but beautiful and strangely hopeful, coming-of-age tale.”[9] Roger Ebert[10] gave Mysterious Skin 3.5 out of a possible 4 stars, describing it as "at once the most harrowing and, strangely, the most touching film I have seen about child abuse". Steven Rhea of The Philadelphia Inquirer awarded the film 3 out of 4 stars, stating that "Mysterious Skin" ultimately "manages to deal with its raw, awful subject matter in ways that are both challenging and illuminating".[11] Gordon-Levitt was praised by critics for his performance, and the actor has stated that people on the streets had come up to him to applaud his performance in the film.[3] His portrayal of a teenage hustler inspired director Scott Frank to cast him in The Lookout (2007).[4]

According to psychologist Richard Gartner,[12] the novel Mysterious Skin is an uncommonly accurate portrayal of the long-term effect of child sexual abuse on boys.

Rating issues

The US MPAA rated the film NC-17, which the studio appealed unsuccessfully. The film was released in the US without rating.[13]

The film was the subject of some controversy in Australia, where the Australian Family Association requested a review of its classification, seeking to have the film outlawed due to its depiction of pedophilia. They suggested that the film could be used by pedophiles for sexual gratification or to help them groom children for sexual abuse.[14] The six-member Classification Review Board voted four-to-two in favour of maintaining an R18+ rating. The controversy is referenced in a review excerpt from The Sydney Morning Herald on the Region 4 DVD that reads: "How anyone could have wanted it banned is beyond me";[15] film critic Margaret Pomeranz expressed that the film does more for the case against pedophilia, stating: "People who do indulge in crimes like that, if they saw this film they would understand the damage that they do."[16]


The film score was composed by Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie.

Other songs include:

  1. "Golden Hair" – Slowdive (written by Syd Barrett)
  2. "Galaxy" – Curve
  3. "Game Show" – Dag Gabrielsen, Bill Campbell, Nelson Foltz, Robert Roe
  4. "Catch the Breeze" – Slowdive
  5. "Crushed" – Cocteau Twins
  6. "Dagger" – Slowdive
  7. "I Guess I Fell in Love Last Night" – Dag Gabrielsen, Alex Lacamoire
  8. "I Could Do Without Her" – Dag Gabrielsen, Alex Lacamoire
  9. "Drive Blind" – Ride
  10. "O Come All Ye Faithful" – Tom Meredith, Cydney Neal, Arlo Levin, Isaiah Teofilo
  11. "Away in a Manger" – Tom Meredith, Cydney Neal, Arlo Levin, Isaiah Teofilo
  12. "Silent Night" – Tom Meredith, Cydney Neal, Arlo Levin, Isaiah Teofilo, Evan Rachel Wood, John Mason
  13. "Samskeyti" – Sigur Rós
  14. "Blue Skied an' Clear" – Slowdive



  1. ^ (18)"MYSTERIOUS SKIN".  
  2. ^ Mysterious Skin at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b c d e Otto, Jeff (2005-06-03). "Interview: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet and Michelle Trachtenberg.". Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  4. ^ a b Feinberg, Scott (2010-07-25). "INTERVIEW: JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT ON WHY HE QUIT ACTING, CAME BACK". Scott Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  5. ^ 'Interview: Under the "Mysterious Skin"'
  6. ^ Director and actors' commentary track on DVD release
  7. ^ Mysterious Skin at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. ^ Mysterious Skin at Metacritic
  9. ^ a b Alexander Ryll (2014). "Essential Gay Themed Films To Watch, Mysterious Skin". Gay Essential. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  10. ^ "Mysterious Skin". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  11. ^ 'Mysterious Skin' Reviews Rotten Tomatoes
  12. ^ Gartner, Richard. "Cinematic Depictions of Boyhood Sexual Victimization (part 5 of 5)". Originally published in Gender and Psychoanalysis (1999) Volume 4:253-289.
  13. ^ "Reasons for Movie Ratings – Mysterious Skin". MPAA. 
  14. ^ Moses, Alexa (2005-07-19). "Pedophilia theme sparks film ban call".  
  15. ^ Byrnes, Paul (2005-08-18). "Mysterious Skin". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2009-09-04. Mysterious Skin is a profoundly moving film, disturbing and beautiful and painful. How anyone could have wanted it banned is beyond me - but of course, the people who wanted it banned hadn't seen it. 
  16. ^ "At the Movies: Mysterious Skin".  
  17. ^
  18. ^

External links

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