Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Skin I Live In

The notion of the mad doctor or scientist, who kidnaps and imprisons subjects for his experiments, is a staple of horror films. It is a also unfortunately a recurrent staple of reality, where newspaper headlines routinely report cases of imprisonment. In one an Austrian psychopath, Josef Fritzl, actually fathered children with the imprisoned daughter he’d incested. If nothing else Pedro Almodovar ‘s The Skin I Live In exemplifies the director’s obsession with plot. Horror film plots, romantic plots crimes of passion are all gris for this plotmeister. He is the most plotty of modernists. No Bergman or especially Antonioni film was ever so heavy on plots as Almodovar's are and The Skin I live In takes the cake. The enormous reticulations of the plot in question lead to the simple conclusion that however much we change the surface, the inside of the human being is stubbornly unmalleable . The skin we live in is still an intransigent ego, no matter how much it’s tattooed or it the case of the term the film coins, transgenesized. It’s an anti-Pygmalion if you like or another version of Vertigo in which the protagonist falls in love with someone who doesn’t exist. What’s really interesting is the brute grief that lies at the heart of all the desire to remake and reshape reality--another curiously simple, but essential element that is like the sun around which the other planets of the complex story turn. Louise Bourgeois makes a cameo appearance in the form of a book of her work. Bourgeois’ sculptures are psychohistories and testaments to trauma. The appearance of the Bourgeois book also makes a cool art critical point in comparing plastic surgery with her preoccupations. Robert Ledgard (Antonion Banderas) the villainous plastic surgeon who drives the action has lost his wife (a burn victim who jumped out of the window on seeing her reflection) and a daughter (who has never recovered from the trauma of seeing her human cinder of a mother fall to the ground). There is yet another level of the movie having to do with other mothers, the mother of the plastic surgeon and the mother of the kidnapped victim, a young man who undergoes a vaginoplasty. To return back to Vertigo, the movie is vertiginous, highly flawed and much more powerful than some critics are crediting.

This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

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