Mysterious Skin

Rated 4.0

Totally Fucked Up director Gregg Araki adapts Scott Heim’s novel about two Kansas boys molested by their Little League coach, with bracing results. As they grow up and apart, Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, remarkable) lashes out as a gay prostitute, and Brian (Brady Corbet, sincere) sinks into his obsessive theory that what happened to him during that dimly remembered summer was actually an alien abduction. No stranger to adolescent angst, Araki makes some choices as if on a dare. His frankness about sexual expression and the emotional consequences of abuse allows both brutality and delicacy; he wants admiration for the former and deserves it for the latter—as does the movie’s cozying score, rendered in reverb-soaked guitar by Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie. Unmistakably, this is an aggressive, queeny melodrama with a sometimes creaky and redundant narrative line and, arguably, a streak of self-hating hostility toward gay men. But it’s also luminously devastating, and it comes to life in ways that other recent tacklers of its tough subject—Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education and Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River—never could.