Film / La Piel Que Habito

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La Piel Que Habito (known in the US as The Skin I Live In) is a Pedro Almodóvar film about a mysterious woman (Elena Anaya) undergoing equally mysterious skin transplant procedures by a secretive plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) as part of his research into "a skin that accepts a caring touch, yet resists all harmful attacks." But why is she held in a locked room, almost prison-like, without any contact from the outside world? Why is the doctor so adamant about keeping her hidden away? How did the two ever meet, and why is she being subjected to such procedures, which seem to be against her will?


This movie contains examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love: Played with, then thankfully subverted.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The character of Alex, instrumental in the book, has apparently been reworked into Zeca.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Zeca and Vicente. Norma and Vera have to learn it the hard way.
    • This trope is ultimately fulfilled by Robert as well.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Vera with Zeca.
  • Arc Words: Am I complete?
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Vera is a man.
  • Ax-Crazy: Zeca, a totally immoral criminal who thinks nothing of blackmailing people, raping women, or brutalizing his own mother. All while dressed in a ludicrous tiger costume.
  • Beauty to Beast: Robert's wife was burned to within an inch to her life in a car crash. She was disfigured horribly, and Robert and the mansion's staff removed all mirrors when she regained consciousness for fear of her reaction. It worked, for a while... until she caught her reflection on a window pane.
  • Becoming the Mask: Played with and ultimately subverted with Vicente/Vera.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Vicente has had his revenge against Robert and managed to escape the mansion he was confined into, but the female-assigned primary and secondary sex characteristics he's been assigned won't be undone easily. Nor will all the trauma.
  • Black and Gray Morality: There is not one innocent party in the plot, except Vicente's mom.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The vaginoplasty etc.. Slightly subverted when Robert shoots and kills Zeca and when Vicente-almost-Vera slits his own throat.
  • Broken Bird: Vera. Finding out why and how is the crux of the plot.
  • Cain and Abel: Robert and Zeca.
  • Call-Forward: In the flashback, Robert laments the separation between him and his mentally disturbed daughter, Norma. After a violent sexual encounter, Norma is physically repulsed by other men, especially her father, who found her after she'd been assaulted. Robert is extremely frustrated that his daughter doesn't recognize him and identifies him as her attacker. By this time, we know that Robert has already kidnapped Vicente, his daughter's actual attacker, and that he will go on to sexually assault him over the next six years. His daughter's repulsion was more appropriate than either one realized.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Yoga, it helps Vicente with keeping his self despite the radical changes his body has suffered, the head sculptures Vera makes which are identical to the one Vicente left unfinished before getting kidnapped and a woman's dress which helps him with convincing his friend who he actually is.
    • Then there's the actual gun that Vera shoots Robert with.
  • Driven to Suicide: Robert's first wife, upon seeing her disfigured face for the first time, takes a flying leap off her balcony... right before their daughter's eyes. The incident traumatized the latter severely, and just when she seems to get well enough to socialize in public again, Vicente's sexual aggression while hearing the song she sang while her mother committed suicide in front of her completely broke her and she soon follows in her mother's footsteps. Later on, Vicente tries to kill himself by slicing his throat open with a knife, which is why the mansion's staff is forbidden from handing him any edged or bladed items. In present time, He half-heartedly attempts it again by using the paper from his books to cut himself, but as Robert states, if he had really meant it, he would have cut his throat instead of his chest.
  • Easy Sex Change: Vera is actually Vicente after Robert's Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Averted - it takes years. Years of dilation every day, batch after batch of skin grafts, more surgeries (where'd that feminine voice come from?), and estrogen in Vera's drink. This last one, Blink And You'll Miss It in the first scene!
  • Fade to Black: How the movie ends as Vicente reunites with his mother.
  • Falling into His Arms: Norma into Vicente's, at the party. And so the tragedy unfolds.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Not only was Vicente operated on repeatedly but he was also used as a Guinea Pig for experiments with transgenic skin.
  • False Rape Accusation: Subverted: the fact that there was no actual penetration doesn't make it any better, at least not in view of the consequences.
  • Flashback: They reveal who Vera actually is.
  • Film of the Book: The movie is based upon the Thierry Jonquet novel Mygale.
  • Freudian Excuse: Marilia blames herself for the way her sons, Robert and Zeca, turned out. She believes they both get their madness from her.
  • For Science!: One of the motives behind Robert's "experiment." It doesn't exactly hold up by the end.
  • Forced to Watch: Marilia is bound and gagged by her criminal son, Zeca, who leaves her in front of the security monitors, where she is forced to watch as Zeca violently rapes Vera.
  • Foreshadowing: Marilia chides Robert for giving Vera his wife's face, saying that it would be his downfall.
  • Handsome Lech: Vicente makes (harmless and pointless) passes at Cristina, his lesbian coworker, and he's quite attractive to Norma and her teenage friends.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Robert began a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to make Vicente pay for his daughter's Near-Rape Experience. Six years later, Robert's crimes have far surpassed Vicente's, using his surgical skills to transform the latter into a beautiful woman whom he can use as he pleases, and is fully willing to murder people in order to keep his captive all to himself.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Robert gives Vera the face of his own, late wife. Ultimately, he gives in to his lust for him and allows him to stay outside of confinement, and even sleeps with him, giving him the perfect opportunity to take revenge. To add insult to injury, Vera shoots him with his own gun from his desk.
  • Idiot Ball: Marilia knew full well what kind of man Zeca was, and she knew that Robert didn't want anyone coming anywhere near Vera, yet she allowed him into the mansion with hardly a complaint. Robert giving Vera his wife's face when he had absolutely no reason to was even worse.
  • I Lied: Vera says this to Robert as he is about to shoot him.
  • In Medias Res: The movie begins near the end of the story. Near the middle, we have a flashback which explains how our characters got to this point.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: After a fashion, Vera. The skin-colored, skintight full-body suit she wears 24/7 gives the appearance that she's naked all the time, and she has no qualms with being fully naked before other people. At first it seems to be a side-effect of the constant skin procedures (which require constant visual examination and treatment,) but it gives a hint that Vicente doesn't really see that skin as his own, so people seeing Vera naked doesn't mean anything to him.
  • Ironic Echo: "If you like the dress so much why not wear it yourself?"
  • Lack of Empathy: Played straight with Robert, Marilia and Zeca, who have no true regard for anyone but themselves and (for Robert and Marilia, at least) the people they care about. Subverted in the case of Vicente, who first tries to forcefully have sex with Norma and knocking her out when she struggles against him. Realizing what he's done, he attempts to redress her and, overwhelmed with fear and shame, leaves her. Unfortunately for him and Norma, the damage he'd done already was too great.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Vera when raped by Zeca, and again when lying with Robert, in order to earn both men's trust so he could escape.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: If he hadn't used that face, Zeca wouldn't have been so hasty to go and rape the "female guest," and Robert himself wouldn't have fallen for him.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Marilia is Robert's biological mother, gave him up to the Ledgard family (his father's) when the lady of the house was unable to bear child.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Zeca first appears wearing a tiger mask to go with his tiger striped leather costume. Robert wears a strange synthetic face over his own to conceal his appearance when he goes to abduct Vicente. Both men are definitely malevolent. Averted with Vicente/Vera, who is forced to wear haunting masks but is not evil.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Subverted:Vera adopted a feminine persona in order to cling to the core of Vicente's true personality.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Robert Ledgard, a revolutionary Spanish plastic surgeon who devolves into an unscrupulous madman.
  • Near-Rape Experience: Vicente to Norma. It's only after he slaps her unconscious (she kept crying and screaming "No!") that he realizes what finding them like this would imply, and redresses her as best as he can, but he still leaves her lying there in the garden for Robert to find.
  • Never Found the Body: Vicente's mother invokes this when his motorcycle is found (planted by Robert) crashed at the bottom of a cliff. Possibly, it happens literally with Zeca, since the only people who know where he was buried are killed.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Zeca's assault, horrible as it was, was directly responsible for Vera's freedom.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: A very prominent aspect of the film.
    • All of the tragic events that befall Vicente are the result of him nearly raping and traumatizing Robert's daughter, Norma, while high on drugs. As far as Robert is concerned, Vicente raped her, and he uses this to justify abducting him and physically/psychologically abusing him for years until he's successfully transformed Vicente into a woman named Vera, who is essentially the ghost of his late wife...
    • This works too well when Zeca — Robert's deranged half-brother who eloped with his late wife (whom Zeca left to die) — returns when Robert's away, discovers Vera, mistakes her for Robert's wife, and immediately goes out of his way to rape her, not knowing Vera is really a man...
    • After Robert kills Zeca and saves Vera, he realizes that he desires her too. Believing she has become completely dependent on him after coming to her rescue, he makes love to her. He lets his toxic feelings blind him to the reality that Vera is still Vicente, the man he captured and used as an experiment for years, who is desperate enough to allow Zeca and Robert to rape him if it means a chance to get away. Vera uses the "bond" between him and his captor to catch Robert with his guard down, killing him and escaping to freedom.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: Norma's loos of sexual innocence while hearing a childhood song her mother committed suicide to left her in a traumatic state where she wouldn't even recognize her father anymore and which ultimately leads to her suicide.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: At a friend's wedding, Robert finds evidence that his daughter was dragged into the dark and raped. Much later on, Vicente's flashback shows that (although his actions were irresponsible) he didn't go all the way. Too bad for him that he was too high to remember what actually happened that night when his life - or as it turned out, his physical gender - depended on it.
  • Replacement Goldfish: At a certain point, it becomes clear that Robert intends to make Vicente into one for his dead wife. Believing that he has succeeded is what leads to his downfall.
  • Rescue Romance: Robert saving Vera from Zeca, at first, looks like a bizarre variation of this. He even tries to pull off Rescue Sex, but relents due to Vera's soreness from being violently raped by Zeca. In reality, Vera is taking advantage of this trope in order to finally escape from Robert's captivity.
  • The Reveal: Vera is actually Vicente, the man who ended up being unfortunate enough to mistake Robert's daughter's insanity for weed buzz and stupid enough to try and have sex with her. As a part of Robert's Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Vincente was given a vagina, forced to rape himself with dilators, and made to look like Robert's dead wife!.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: What Richard does to his daughter's rapist. And what Vera does when he's freed from captivity.
  • Room Full of Crazy: The endless scribbles and artsy sketches that Vera's room is covered in? They didn't come with the room. Vicente/Vera made them himself to hold on to sanity.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
  • Scale of Scientific Sins:
    • Robert's breakthroughs in artificial skin are hailed as nigh-miraculous, until he confides with his superiors that he's using transgenic material from pigs (the animal with tissues closest to humans') to manufacture it. He's immediately chastised for it, since not only is it illegal and banned by the European scientific community, but because it's "unethical."
    • Compounded further when a trusted colleague and friend discovers that Robert is using a human guinea pig (Vera) for his research, and not mice as he claimed to the medical board. But since said guinea pig is a kidnapped Vicente, the "transgenic research is banned" part is just a tiny cherry on top of a bigger scientific blasphemy sundae.
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: Robert's mansion, and Vera's room in it (and Vicente's dungeon beneath it).
  • Situational Sexuality: Vicente is a very heterosexual man, who is abducted and subjected to forced sexual reassignment surgeries that give him the appearance of an exquisitely beautiful woman. He eventually realizes that his only chance of escape is to (very, very reluctantly) use this to his advantage, forcing him to give in to the sexual advances of Zeca, a homicidal brute, and Robert, his deranged captor.
    • This goes double for Robert, who is able to delude himself into believing he's made a perfect recreation of his dead and beloved wife. Despite being fully aware that "Vera" is really just a man that he imprisoned, physically altered and literally objectified for years does not stop him from eagerly trying to have sex with his plaything.
  • Shout-Out: Many shots, the setting and part of the plot reference heavily Eyes Without a Face. Another part references Frankenstein and the last par remembers The Last House on the Left.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: What Marilia initially says Robert and Zeca have, with one child being bright and obedient and growing up to be a famous doctor, and the other going off to deal drugs at age seven and turning out as a killer and robber. However, by her own admission, they are both monsters, they just expressed it in different ways.
  • The Sociopath: Robert Ledgard, an otherwise brilliant and sophisticated man whose pursuit of vengeance results in him developing a cold and calculating disregard for human life, until he sees other people as objects that he can use for his own purposes.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Vera invokes this to be recognized as Vicente by Cristina, his mother's assistant.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Vicente does a phenomenal job of faking this.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: Vera's room in the mansion. A Gilded Cage it may be, catering to his needs and requests, but it's still custom-made to prevent his escape or suicide.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: After Norma's loss of sexual innocence and hearing a traumatizing music, she forgets her father, because she now sees all men as embodiments of her rapist.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Vicente trying to have sex with an obviously deranged woman.
    • He was himself very high, and might not have understood she was deranged.
    • Zeca's robbery partner, who didn't just fail to kill the security cams but allowed them to capture his face when everyone else was wearing ski masks, leading the police to the rest of the gang.
    • Zeca himself, who can't seem to go ten seconds without proving what a heinous, psychopathic thug he is.
    • Also Gal, Robert's deceased wife, who was foolish enough to "take a liking" to Zeca and run away with him. They got into a car crash, and Zeca fled as Gal burned "like a torch", leaving her horribly disfigured until the day she took her own life.
  • White Mask of Doom: Vera has one of his own.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: More like "You wouldn't kill yourself" in the scene where Vera threatens to slice her own throat. Subverted, when he actually does.

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