MYSTERIOUS SKIN (Gregg Araki). 99 minutes. Opens Friday (June 3). For venues and times, see Movies, page 115. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Adolescence is like science-fiction, but it takes a truly sensitive soul to limn just how weird every living day as a teenager can be. For Gregg Araki , this is his life's work. Mysterious Skin is the best film Araki's ever made, and he's done it by finding strange grace in a story of sexual abuse.
It begins pre-adolescence. Brian and Neil are eight-year-olds in Kansas. They play Little League. One day their coach invites them into his house. From that day on, Brian suffers blackouts and memories of alien abduction. Neil ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt ) grows up to be a teenage hustler with a dangerous taste for older men.
Adapting another writer's material for the first time, Araki turns Scott Heim 's novel into a dreamscape that's as unsettling as it is erotic. An early scene of predation is deeply creepy, but Araki insists on capturing it through a child's curious eyes. When Brian seeks Neil out 10 years later, it's because he believes they've shared a rare, otherworldly experience. He's wrong about what happened, but it's a feeling Neil recognizes, that feeling of being forced out-of-body.
After the sharp shocks of Totally F***ed Up and The Doom Generation, that eerie floating feeling guides Araki's growing up.