Mysterious Skin

“The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life”

This strange, mysterious opening line is spoken with such an emptiness, with such resignation, you’re not sure whether to sit up and take notice or simply shrug it off.

“The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life”.

You hear those words and want to reply “Yeah? So what.”

And perhaps that is the point. Because no sooner has that thought entered your head than you realise just how disconcerting it is.

Something happened to this kid, something awful for sure. But his dead tone, his apparent exhaustion at trying to figure it all out seems to be overcoming both himself and the audience right from the start.

He seems not to be looking for your compassion. This is just a straight narration. All he wants is to account for those five hours. For the rest, well make your own minds up as to how you cope with all that unravels.

Because what unravels is a sad tale, devoid of its horror due, for the most part, to the dreamlike trance in which events are narrated and filmed.

It’s only as the film progresses, and the truth comes to light that you begin to realise the real horror that is behind that voice. To understand that the emptiness stems from some deep, long suppressed trauma.

“The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life”

This is Brian Lackey and those five hours disappeared from his life because he chose to block them out.

Chose to suppress the truth about what happened and opted instead for an alternative history. For the fantastical notion that he must have been abducted by aliens.

This is how he explains away those lost hours to himself.

Those strange shadowy figures that loom towards him in his nightmares are not of this world. No such horror ever is. Deep down of course he is desperate to know what happened. Deep down he knows those figures are very real. But in the meantime, they are aliens. In the meantime there is the all consuming protection of a fantasy.

For Neil McCormick however, the truth of the matter is very real.

For Neil it’s the seedy tale of small town hustling and sexual misadventure. Of drugs and abandonment. Of a drunken mother and a cynicism come too early.

Neil knows where those five hours disappeared to because he was there when they were stolen. He was there at the scene of the crime, a witness to the sexual abuse perpetrated by their baseball coach.

“No one ever made me feel that special” is all that Neil can say as to his relationship with the coach.

So we watch as the coach grooms Neil with cereal, video games and attention. With something akin to love – or that is how Neil receives it.

And again, the strange dreamy quality of the narration, the detachment of the subjects from events, leads us, the audience, to accept matters in a similar way.

To simply take events on board and leave it at that – as if opinions, moral objections, righteous indignation are irrelevant here.

“Five hours disappeared from my life.”

“No one ever made me feel that special.”

Point made. Discussion over before it even begins.

Is this what it feels like to be traumatised I wonder?

To be so beaten, exhausted, battered; So hollow and numb that you get beyond even hopelessness. Get to a point where empty resignation is all there is. Where blame never comes into it. Where pity is not an option.

It’s the getting on with it, the coming to terms with it that counts. Any way you can, you must survive. That’s all that matters.

Or that’s certainly how this film makes you feel in any case.

Brian’s fantasism, Neil’s abandon, both reactions are equally understandable, both equally unnerving, both equally unjudgemental.

In an era in which we have become slightly inured to horror – immune to those images of war, famine, death and destruction.

In an age that is numb to the pain of it all, perhaps this is the only way we can react?

With a quiet and unnerving dispassion. With a simple shrug of the shoulders.

“The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life”

“Yeah? So what.”

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