‘The Skin I Live In’ Review
July 27, 2012 7 Comments
The Skin I Live In (2011)
Hailed as one of the most provocative films of the year, Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘The Skin I Live In’ is a bizarre drama about a genius plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) who creates a new type of human skin, which is resistant to all sorts of damage, including burns. However, haunted by past personal tragedies – the death of his wife Gal and daughter Norma, Dr. Ledgard soon goes too far in his scientific experiments when he starts to experiment on his newly captive prisoner Vera (Elena Anaya). The film, which, incidentally, marks the first collaboration in twenty one years between Antonio Banderas and Almodóvar (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)), is an outstanding achievement, containing masterfully controlled direction, brilliant film compositions and strong lead performances.
‘The Skin I Live In’, which is based on the novel by Thierry Jonquet ‘Mygale’ (1995), touches upon many topics and themes: obsession, crime, personal tragedy, madness, revenge, power, betrayal, gender, sexual identity and death. At times resembling ‘Boxing Helena’ (1993) in terms of its portrayal of obsession bordering madness and surgical experimentation, or ‘Irreversible’ (2002) in terms of its horror impact, at times ‘Eyes Without a Face’ (1960) in terms of its plot structure, it seems that the film appeals to the audience in the same way as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1818) still does.
‘The Skin I Live In’’s storytelling is as fluent as Hitchcock’s in ‘Vertigo’ (1958), and the film particularly excels in structure and sequence of past and present events. This is exactly where the Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu in the film ’21 Grams’ (2003) disastrously faulted, irrespective of the script. ‘The Skin I Live In’ captures the viewer’s attention almost immediately and does not let go until the very end, maintaining an enviable degree of mystery, without falling into being too absurd, despite the fact that the film plays with many incompatible ideas and themes. In that vein, the film is exemplary of how to shoot a complex plot without losing control of what matters, or straying.
One drawback of the film seems to lie half-way through it, when ‘past events’ start to overlap ‘present’, and background stories and other characters emerge, e.g. tiger-costumed Zeca (Roberto Alamo), making the film appear more confusing than it needs to be. However, the film then makes a great ‘recovery’ in the shape of a very gratifying twist, which very few viewers will soon forget.
There have been numerous debates as to the genre of this film. From psychological thriller to horror and melodrama, the film seems to encapsulate nearly every genre. The correct classification seems to be a mystery drama with a horror twist (psychosexual drama?). Nevertheless, the film seems to trespass any boundaries of classification in arousing a sense of eerie uncertainty as to its subject and plot. As with ‘Shame’ (2011),there will be either those who will love it or those who will hate and consider it grossly shocking, if not horrifying.
The acting is great in the film. Antonio Banderas, just fresh out of ‘Shrek’ franchise, gives something special in this film, playing his character as intense and emotionally detached as Almodóvar so desires, giving an outstanding performance. Elena Anaya, who plays Dr. Robert Ledgard’s captive, also gives a powerful performance, showing just the right amount of emotional detachment and quite desperation as her character struggles with the horrific aftermath of Dr. Robert Ledgard’s scientific experimentations. With outstanding camerawork, setting, costumes and music (Alberto Iglesias), ‘The Skin I Live In’ accepts nothing short of perfection.
Although not necessarily for the mainstream audience’s multiple viewings (the film contains a decent amount of graphic content), ‘The Skin I Live In’ is, nevertheless, a triumph of specifically ‘Almodóvar’s cinematography. The film is very beautiful artistically, with very well thought-out shots and thought-provoking plot sequence. A viewing is essential as the film’s ‘impact’ is virtually guaranteed. 9/10
Warning! – Serious Spoilers Ahead!
Psychologically, the film is very interesting in portraying a mental state of a human being who underwent a sex-reassignment surgery, though the impact of such operation on a human psyche was grossly underplayed in the film. Whoever saw the documentary ‘The Boy Who Was Turned into a Girl’ depicting the life of David Reimer (committed suicide at the age of 38), will know the catastrophic consequences of such a procedure if it is performed without consent, and the fact that ‘female/male sexuality’ is ‘in the brain’, and cannot be ‘learned’.
It is also a merit to the film that it could be so scientifically unrealistic, bordering on being fantastic in its conceptual ideas, while maintaining its realistic undertones on screen throughout. In that vein, the film is a great play with the audience’s own romantic notions, sexuality and feelings, as they have to psychologically reconcile themselves rapidly to a drastic shift in the circumstances in the film.
The procedure which Dr. Robert Ledgard used to modify Vicente was made unclear in the film, though it goes without saying that to achieve the result Dr. Ledgard did, one has to swamp skeletons, including skulls, first.
Dr. Robert Ledgard presents a nice character study. Contrary to popular opinion, one can say that Dr. Ledgard, rather than being a psychopath or an evil ‘monster’, is actually just a man who is torn with grief over losing his family to very traumatic events, and loses his sanity on that basis, becoming obsessed with the image of his wife, desiring to return her whatever the cost. Dr. Robert Ledgard is vindictive and egoistic, but he is also a man who wants to fulfil his professional ambitions, and turning Vicente into Vera presents a real professional challenge to him, which he finds hard to resist.