Mysterious Skin

mysterious-skinThe reasons behind the choice of someone becoming a prostitute are various. The most common answer is money, but, as seen in Belle de Jour (Buñuel, 1967), it can be more complex – like a discovery of self-pleasure. However, the director Gregg Araki introduces a darker reason in Mysterious Skin (2004), which sometimes can be hard to watch.

Many people are victims of sexual assault and, each has a particular way to cope with it. Araki shows two different perspectives in Mysterious Skin. As kids, the characters Neil and Brian were victims of sexual abuse by their baseball coach. Neil is self-aware of what happened, while Brian firmly believes he was a victim of an alien abduction, which becomes a shock for him when he finally remembers what happened that night.

Even though the plot revolves around both characters, Neil has an ambiguous behavior. As a teenager, he becomes a prostitute and shows interest for older men in several scenes of the movie. In the various encounters he has with clients, he is always the dominant, which is an interesting aspect. Prostitutes are often seen as sexual objects by their clients and cooperate with their sexual fantasies. In Neil’s case, he is the one in charge in these sexual encounters. This is perhaps his way to deal with his sexuality. While as a kid, he did not have the power over his relationship with the coach, and now, as a more mature person, he finally has the control over his sexuality. This reason can be explained by his last encounter with a client when he is forced to be the submissive, and he tries to escape the situation, resulting in a rape scene.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Trachtenberg

In fact, this rape scene raises more questions about prostitution than any other scene. The client is violent and treats Neil as an object, calling him several times “slut.” He does not have any respect for him and even beats him up. This shows how unsafe this job can be and how this kind of situations could be avoided with the possible legalization of prostitution. Even if Neil reported this abuse, he could not explain the reason why he was there considering it is something illegal. Like Neil, there are different cases of prostitutes that are abused – not only physically, but also verbally – and, as a more extreme example, even murdered, because there is no safety provided to these people’s lives.

Gregg Araki
Gregg Araki

While in Belle de Jour prostitution is romanticized, in Mysterious Skin it is precisely the opposite. Araki shows its complexity and dark side, whether it is sexual abuse or even the concern about sexually transmitted diseases. One of Neil’s closest friends, Wendy, shows her concern several times about Neil’s health. People who deal with various sexual partners are more likely to be victims of deadly diseases. When it comes to prostitution, it is even more likely to transmit viruses if particular attention to this matter is not provided.

In class, with the guest speaker Marc Francis, it was also brought up another point about prostitution. As it is mentioned in Gayle Rubin’s essay “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality”, society tends to categorize sex in a scale from “good” to “bad” sex, where sex for money and homosexual sex is seen as “abnormal, unnatural, sick, sinful” (154). The article is an important complement to the movie Mysterious Skin, regarding understanding or concluding when it comes to homosexual and prostitution sex.

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