Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Reflecting Skin

The Reflecting Skin; thriller-drama, UK, 1990; D: Philip Ridley, S: Jeremy Cooper, Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan

Idaho during the 50s. Seth (8) inflates a frog with friends and then uses a sling to make it explode in front of his bizarre neighbor, a woman called Dolphin. Due to that excess, his mother forces Seth to go to Dolphin's house and apologize. There, Dolphin says that her husband died and that she still has his hair and teeth in a box, which frightens Seth so much he runs away and concludes she must be a vampire. When a boy is found murdered, the Sheriff accuses Seth's father who, insecure about his gay preferences, burns himself with gasoline. Seth's big brother Cameron returns from the war and falls in love with Dolphin. However, Cameron suffers from radioactive contamination and is anaemic, which causes Seth to conclude that Dolphine is sucking out his blood. Dolphine enters the car of a criminal and is found dead, which devastates Cameron.

In the movie "The Reflecting Skin", nothing is normal. That anti-coming-of-age tragedy is an ode to sad childhood, directed by Philip Ridley in a depressive and demanding way, and the story as a whole seems slightly pointless. Already the sole opening sequence is creepy: kids inflate a frog like a balloon and then use a sling to make her intestine explode in front of a blond woman Dolphin - who is mistaken by the main protagonist Seth as a vampire because she always wears sunglasses. Other sequences are equally as insensitive and cruel: Seth (appropriately weird performance by Jeremy Cooper) is punished by his mother who forces him to drink so much water until he becomes sick, causing urine to flow down his pants. Ridley managed to conjure up a very palpable nihilism of the world, but the question is if that alone is enough, or for whom, since the story is unfocused, the characters cold and emotionless whereas the various symbols are banal. "The reflecting Skin" could very well go in a double bill with other bizarre films that show the path of growing up as a very rough ride, such as Jordan's "The Butcher Boy" or Lauzon's "Leolo", but all of them are equally uneven. The only indisputably great ingredient here is the early appearance of excellent Viggo Mortensen, later the star of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.


1 comment:

ken said...

this film is an exceedingly nasty little exercise in morbid pretentiousness that amounts to little more than the juxtapositioning of andrew wyeth-esque sunsoaked, golden wheat fields with a veritable montage of images and scenes calculated to evoke a maximum of depravity...and for the sake of depravity alone, it would appear. it's not an overlooked work of genius. rather, it's an example of people not wanting to wallow in gore and depravity that would have us believe it's really a profound meditation on childhood in the rural america of the 1950's, awash in allegedly deep symbolism that is supposed to illuminate the meditation.

i congratulate the movie going public for steering clear of this nasty piece of cinematic dung.