Mysterious Skin is a 2005 drama film (though produced in 2004) directed by Gregg Araki, who specializes in avant-garde films about homosexual relationships. It is based on the novel of the same name by Scott Heim.
At eight years of age, Neil McCormick (portrayed by Chase Ellison as a boy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teen) discovers he is homosexual, developing an obsession with his mother's boyfriends and the men in her Playgirl magazines. He develops a crush on his baseball coach (Bill Sage), who takes advantage of this and starts taking special interest in him. One stormy night, an incident happens...
Several years later, a teenage Neil works as a gay hustler. Meanwhile, another young man named Brian Lackey (George Webster as a boy and Brady Corbet as a teen) who is obsessed with alien abduction conspiracy theories is trying to piece together his past. He cannot remember the events of several hours in his youth, and he assumes that during this time, aliens had abducted him.
The two eventually meet, and the horrible, liberating truth about what happened in their childhood is revealed.
While the film was critically acclaimed, it was extremely controversial for its subject matter. Moral Guardians in Australia attempted to have it banned, on the grounds that it could encourage copycat behavior. However, to the filmmakers' credit, the child actors' welfare was very thoroughly looked after by means of separate scripts and being asked to perform innocent motions that would be edited to take on a more suggestive appearance.
This film provides examples of:
- Alien Abduction: Brian is obsessed with the idea that he was abducted by aliens as a child.
- All Gays Are Pedophiles: The coach is, but plenty of other gay men are not. The movie also averts the related trope that being molested as a child makes you gay, as Neil mentions having been attracted to men before he even meets the coach (and the coach is able to molest Neil because Neil had a crush on him, also due to him being Neil's type).
- Awful Truth: And how. Brian finds out his missing memories and nosebleeds are not from alien abduction, but from being molested as a child by his Little League coach.
- Bittersweet Ending: Brian finally finds out the truth about his missing memories and inexplicable nosebleeds, and he and Neil may have started some sort of relationship by the end. But that truth is as depressingly horrible as you can get, and any healing they go through is a long way off.
- Break the Cutie: Brian, so much. The first 20 minutes or so show how Neil was himself broken when he was 8.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Brian drunkenly confronts his father on his 19th birthday for his absence and emotional neglect, which left him open to being sexually abused by his coach, and then not noticing anything was wrong, despite his obvious emotional and physical problems.
- Coming-Out Story: Neil tells his at the beginning. He also defies the idea that being molested made him gay, since he already had feelings for men before starting baseball.
- Creepy Gym Coach: Neil and Brian were raped by their baseball coach when they were kids.
- Depraved Homosexual: The man who rapes older Neil, and also the coach.
- Fag Hag: Wendy, Neil's best friend since he was 10 and she was 11. Neil himself notes that had he not been gay they probably would have gotten married and had kids together, and Wendy mentions to Eric that she had at one point been in love with him (and it's implied she might still be)
- Fan Disservice: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is naked in several scenes, but none of them are really titillating.
- Gay Cruising: A lot of it.
- Harmful to Minors: While they react differently to it, it's pretty clear that the incident has ruined both their lives.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Neil is reckless and selfish, not to mention incredibly warped and self destructive through no fault of his own, but he does care about his friends and mother and grows to be a better person, also being willing to get an actual job rather than just work in the dangerous position of being a male prostitute. His comforting of Brian at the end is a prime example
- Karma Houdini: There is no mention whatsoever of any justice served against the Coach for his actions.
- Loners Are Freaks: This is portrayed in Brian's personality. Putting aside his horrific earlier experiences, he does seem to be socially awkward and unworldly even in fairly routine situations, such as his encounter with a librarian.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Trailers for the film omitted all references to child molestation, homosexuality and swearing so they could be shown on TV. Because of this, they had to place emphasis on the Alien Abduction aspect, making it look like a family-friendly sci-fi film with some dramatic scenes. Though acclaimed by those prepared for its content, those who only saw the trailers were surprised when they viewed the film for themselves.
- Odd Friendship: Brian and Avalyn, who commiserate over their shared alien abduction stories (until she tries to have sex with him, as well as Brian and Eric, who meet up and become friends when Brian's trying to learn about Eric's friend Neil. It can be argued that the latter friendship is odder, since there are starker differences in the personalities of Brian and Eric.
- Precision F-Strike:
- When Brian finally confronts his father is the one time he swears in the film.Brian: I was bleeding! I kept passing out! I wet my FUCKING bed! AND YOU NEVER ASKED WHY!
- Neil has a somewhat lesser one.Neil: I am so FUCKING sick of this little buttcrack of a town!
- When Brian finally confronts his father is the one time he swears in the film.
- Porn Stache: The Coach has one.
- Promiscuity After Rape: Neil becomes a gay hustler after being raped by his Little League coach. Many of his johns resemble Neil's abuser.
- Time Skip: There are several of them, which encompass around ten years overall. Interestingly, Brian doesn't get a depiction of his mid-teens in the film, whereas Neil does. This adds to the impression (along with the film's posters) that Neil is the somewhat more central of the two protagonists.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Neil has this kind of relationship with both Wendy and Eric.
- "What Now?" Ending: Following a reveal of what really happened to Brian when he was "abducted", the film promptly closes with carolers singing outside while Neil cradles Brian, leaving absolutely no closure on their broken lives.