Blood ties. Betrayal. Gender bending. Horror in a beautiful lush setting. Like a soap opera in a slaughterhouse, The Skin I Live In blends themes that only a seasoned professional could turn into a cohesive, complex whole.
Pedro Almodóvar's 2011 film The Skin I Live In
takes on a slew of issues and creates a story that doesn't stop twisting until the very end. This Spanish language film premiered on the festival circuit, taking home the Best Film Not in the English Language category (could this title not have been worded better?) at the British Academy Film Awards in 2011 and captivated audiences at the 64th annual Cannes festival where it debuted. Almodóvar described it
as "a horror story without screams or frights" and it definitely lives up to his description. The plot is chilling -- disturbing in a way that seeps slowly into your mind; it is not upfront with the horror it communicates, but instead draws it out as it tiptoes from one unsettling revelation to the next. Antonio Banderas takes the lead as plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard, a man on a mission to bend science to his personal desires. Banderas' depiction of this man, who must cope with loss while leading an overwhelming double life, is genius. He is quietly mad, stoic in his portrayal of a man whose lost touch with reality, a man to whom morality is no longer an issue. The success of Banderas' performance may have something to do with his relationship with Almodóvar -- a man he worked with frequently in the 1980s. This film marked their first collaboration in over two decades. In fact, when Almodóvar first announced the project in 2002, after reading the French novel Tarantula
, he already knew Banderas was his first choice for a leading man. Banderas was able to play in quite nicely with the film's psychological terror -- the subtle horror of the main character's story achieves a level of terror that the typical slasher flick could never reach.
And that brings us to the plot. The story is so complex that total understanding is almost impossible after only one viewing. Dr Robert Ledgard lost the love of his life, first emotionally then physically. After becoming disfigured in a car crash with her secret lover, the family isolated Gal in a life with no reflective surfaces, hoping she never became aware of the beauty she'd lost. But eventually she finds out, and in an act of utter despair she throws herself from her window, leaving Ledgard a broken man. All was not lost though, as Ledgard had his vast and superior knowledge of medicine on his side. After years of experimentation in his at-home laboratory, he finally was able to invent artificial skin which protected from burns and bites. He presented his discovery at a medical symposium only to discover that his peers sensed something suspect in his work. His original claims of only experimenting on mice didn't add up and he eventually confessed to performing transgenetic experimentation -- admitting his use of human subjects and his operation beyond the constraints of the law. He was forbidden to continue his work and returned home to home where he dismissed all of his staff with the exception of Mariella, his trusted servant. Mariella raised Ledgard as a live in nanny from the time he was born, and has many secrets of her own to keep. She dotes on Ledgard, and asked no questions when he first brought home his sedated human subject and remained silent through the six years of imprisonment and experimentation.
Every minute of this film is filled with plot -- there is always something new to discover, a new angle to consider. No one is who they seem. We refuse to ruin the ending for you, the movie is just too enjoyable to watch unfold. It is a thriller in the best possible way as it builds a foundation of truths and then slashes it to pieces. From Ledgard's vendetta to questions of sexual identity, loneliness, anxiety, death and betrayal, Almodóvar creates a delicate web of lies and deception. With all of these heavy themes working within one story the film truly verges on the melodramatic -- but it is Almodóvar's expert hand that guides it back from the brink and creates something that not only makes sense, but that sticks with you forever. His inclusion of an almost science fiction element increases the horror factor, making the once impossible all too real. This is a film that will make your mind wander in places you've never been, and likely places you've never wanted to go.