117 minutes Rating: 18+ Director: Pedro Almodóvar Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Alaya, Marisa Paredes
A twisted and depraved meditation on gender identity, our interior versus exterior lives, and of lust gone awry, The Skin I Live In is a film which is impossible to forget – whether you like it or not.
It begins with a skin surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who keeps a beautiful woman (Elena Anaya) as a compliant prisoner in his palatial home. How she came to be there is a long and utterly disturbing story that gradually unfolds through an almost farcically complicated series of twists and flashbacks.
Given this maze, The Skin I Live In is hard to analyse without giving too much away.
Suffice to say that one of the movie’s most impressive abilities is the way in which it handles these surprises. Rather than dealing in dramatic revelations, the key plot devices come naturally from non-linear narrative.
Put simply, Almodóvar doesn’t simply follow the Scooby Doo approach of tearing
the rubber mask off the villain, instead taking a step back to look at every terrible moment the man endured that has led to his insanity.
These complex situations – and unimaginable horror – are handled so casually that it draws us that much deeper into Almodóvar’s strange universe, forcing ever more heightened reactions to the content.
While the film’s style and cinematography, brightly lit and clean to the point of sterility, stand in beautiful contrast to the story’s dark and disturbing elements, Almodóvar isn’t interested in examining notions of light and dark, as much as he wants to explore how we both protect and deceive ourselves.
For Robert (Banderas), skin is what defines us. It can guard us, change us, and it projects our identity. In his world, Robert is a captive to his past, Vera (Alaya) is a captive to Robert, and both are held captive by the skin-deep delusions they’ve created for themselves.
Through the non-linear structure of the movie, Almodóvar ignites a slow burning thought into your mind before dramatically blowing it up. The only downside is that the twist is so nerve-rattling it’s difficult to regain focus on the rest of the story, and nothing afterward can really compare.
When Bruce Willis was declared dead at the end of The Sixth Sense, the story quickly came to its conclusion.
But it’s a solid half hour where The Skin I Live In must deal with the ramifications
of its twist, and it will be days before the film stops crawling under your skin.