The Skin I Live In

Repulsive portrait of a doctor that is, to put it mildly, without a moral compass. Dr. Robert Ledgard is a renowned plastic surgeon that has just developed a new more durable synthetic skin. He’s testing this breakthrough on an attractive young woman named Vera in his vast mansion.

The movie is puzzling from a dramatic standpoint. Just who exactly is this woman that the doctor keeps locked up in a room? Additionally we’re introduced to a criminal in a tiger suit, a housekeeper who also happens to be Robert’s mother, his daughter Norma and a man who works in a dress shop. Director Pedro Almodóvar reveals things slowly. This admittedly helps keep interest in the story.  As information is uncovered however, the plot becomes increasingly irrational. Once you realize who this mystery woman is and her back-story, it makes the doctor’s obsession with her difficult to fully comprehend. He commits acts that are maliciously evil in nature then shows signs of desire and adoration. He is most assuredly insane, yes, but the narrative doesn’t try to reconcile his maniacal behavior. It only presents his conduct and it’s simply too much of a stretch to accept.

Almodóvar’s fixation on human flesh unsettles and is unsettling. If one asserts that Brian De Palma referenced the sexual ideas in Hitchcock’s Psycho when he made Dressed to Kill, then Almodóvar completely perverts De Palma’s obsessions past the breaking point. Almodóvar has always been concerned with identity, sexuality and gender. But here he has abused his preoccupations into horror. I’ll admit that Almodóvar’s storytelling talents are never in doubt. The film has a gorgeous facade. The set design,  cinematography and music, promote a lush setting that belies something much more sinister. It’s a stylish mix to be sure.  The tale grabs your attention, but then so does a ghastly accident.  Peel back the artistic flourishes and we’re left with a sophisticated version of The Human Centipede with art house pretensions.

Dramatically The Skin I Live In fails to answer key questions. It remains at heart a superficial trip within the mind of a sicko. Given that premise, the motivations and the reactions of the characters should make sense. This isn’t the case. Robert’s desires are hard to believe.  His lack of scruples are further disquieting. How did he develop this personality? There’s precious little insight into his abhorrent behavior. The script really doesn’t have anything to truly explain about this psychopath, other than to offer there are some really messed up people in the world.

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23 Responses to “The Skin I Live In”

  1. This was definitely a strange movie. However, I have to give it 3 stars. I thought it was interesting and creative enough to recommend. Yes it was twisted, but kept me on edge. In your explanation of all the characters, it might interest your readers too.

  2. Great review, Mark. I loved the way the film was directed by Almodóvar, despite the twisted storyline – but this intrigued me more than if it had been a dull sell-out. I enjoy films that push boundaries and although the big reveal was too much to accept, I liked it overall.

  3. The Human Centipede? Really, Mark? The level of sophistication that PA brings to the film elevates it above the level of something like that and still would have even if the film had been made in a vacuum by a living plaid shirt with 3 buttons missing.

    I’m wondering if perhaps you might have missed something. You comment that Robert’s insanity is not fully explained. I’d disagree, and here’s why. SPOILERS follow. His wife and daughter both commit suicide after intensely traumatic events. I’m not sure what further explanation is needed. In fact, that’s part of what makes it so fascinating. Essentially, in one form or another, this person took the only person that he loved away from him forever. So, when he professes undying love for that same person, it’s horrifying, but in a more unsettling way than if PA had just thrown a lot of blood and guts at the screen. He’s found a way to infuse the story with a genuine sense of unease. Plus, the last scene is remarkable and I think the actual ending approaches (and probably attains) perfection. SPOILERS end.

    Of course, there is no accounting for personal taste, and I recognize that. I just feel that you’re selling Pedro short here.

    • **** SPOILERS ****

      Vincente was guilty of attempting to get intimate with Norma. When she freaked out, he left. That’s it. The doctor was a complete nutcase. What he does made no sense. Then the doctor carries out a romantic relationship with the very person he hates. I didn’t find that shocking, just dramatically unjustifiable. Pedro desire is to shock but not explain. I think you’re giving him too much credit.

      • SPOILERS

        Vincente is certainly not a “bad” person. He’s guilty of misinterpreting (’cause he was high as a kite!) what he thought Norma wanted from him, but that’s about it. As for Robert being a nutcase . . . uh, YEAH!!! That’s the idea! One of the strongest aspects of this one is the examination of the subjective nature of memory. “I was there. It wasn’t like that.”

        I love Pedro’s way of telling a story. Just when you think you have a handle on what’s going on, he keeps unveiling new aspects of the narrative. One of the strongest aspects of this film is that it’s exactly the way that PA would make a horror film. When I started to realize what he was doing, I started squirming on the inside. “Please, please, please, don’t let it be THAT.” Of course, that’s exactly what it was. It’s not just shock value. He puts these characters in the most unlikely of situations, and the performances elevate them from the realm of mere melodrama into something that creates an emotionally compelling dramatic experience.

    • I wish I could have gleamed all the wonderful subtleties that you took away from this film. Robert’s behavior was disgusting. I get it. That‘s the point, but it lacked the commentary necessary to justify the ugliness presented. Did you enjoy the 2001 movie Hannibal? I disliked that film for similar reasons. I can appreciate why you love the film. I just couldn’t see the value that would redeem the film for me.

      • I have not seen Hannibal, for one very simple reason. I am squeamish. I like The Silence of the Lambs, but am told that Hannibal ratchets it up several notches. As such, I decided to quit while I was ahead.

  4. I thought you would’ve liked this one. Again, you’re completely unpredictable. Great, great review.

  5. Totally messed-up movie that got weirder and twistier as it went along, even though I think the structure didn’t make much sense. Still, it added a lot more mystery here. Good review Mark.

  6. atothewr Says:

    I have seen the trailer for this one, but was unaware of what it was about. Thanks for the review. It gave me a little more insight into it. I might have to see this one at some point and time.

  7. martin250 Says:

    nicely written and have lost interest in this after “..has abused his preoccupations into horror” , plus your last sentence of the review.

    • martin250 Says:

      just to clarify the above , “lost interest in this movie..”.

    • You’ll know if this is your cup of tea based ion my review. I think I gave enough detail without revealing secrets. To the film’s credit, I wasn’t bored and the film definitely has a lot of critical acclaim.

  8. It was definitely a creepy movie. Not sure what else i would call it tho

  9. You know I loved this and considered it to be one of the best of 2011, so I don’t necessarily agree with your review but credit must go where it is due, it’s a fantastic write-up.

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