I'm not the biggest fan of skin trauma. I found this out the hard way after realizing that sudden onsets of nausea and fainting usually came after I witnessed someone slicing off a piece of their own skin. You might now be asking yourself why on earth I would willingly choose to watch a film about a woman who cuts off pieces of her own skin and I'm sorry to inform you that I have no answer. Other than the fact that I've heard things. Strange things...voices mostly--in particular one who is very angry and tells me that I smell and also another, nicer voice that tells me that In My Skin is good. Hard to get through---but good.
By the way I was kidding about the hearing voices thing....
In the grand scheme of things, In My Skin is not technically a horror film. It gets grouped there because of all the ickiness, but I found it to be more on par with something like Irreversible. Disturbing definitely in any case. And it just so happens to be one of those movies that really makes you think. And boy, do I like those.
As I said, In My Skin follows a woman named Esther who after falling and cutting her leg is obsessed with cutting her skin.
Her boyfriend finds this odd (I mean, he should be at least) but cannot understand why on earth she continues to mutilate herself. And neither can we. As the film progresses and Esther's grip on reality continues to slip, we find ourselves just as lost as she is. Unsure about the reasons but entirely captivated by something....something indeed.
It's hard to explain a film like In My Skin without first explaining how horrifying it can at times be. In fact, I gave myself a headache because I kept my face screwed up in a frown for longer than 20 minutes. Did you know that you can actually give yourself a headache by frowning for that long? Neither did I, but there you have it. So there I was my face glued in an eternal frown/pout and I couldn't look away. I really, really wanted to mind you--but much like the films of Gaspar Noe, In My Skin draws you in with this incredible power. I like to imagine little gnomes with wings are flying out of the screen and luring me towards the images with the smell of sandwiches and scotch tape (don't ask) (alright fine I like the smell of school supplies, is that so wrong?).
I suppose if gnomes with wings are not involved in the equation than In My Skin accomplishes this feat by utilizing the ever tantalizing technique of juxtaposition. We are presented with some foul, foul things. Horrible, disgusting, bloody, revolting things---that somehow, and against all odds, end up being rather beautiful. These moments of extreme disgust are filmed in some of the most intriguing ways I have ever seen. It causes the images to look more like actual still frames of fine art. It's like in those moments where I first felt a deep sense of vomity something--I then felt this rush of gratitude and awe. Could it be that the gore and nastiness acts as an antidote? The hair of the dog that bit me? Hmmmmm indeed!
Esther's character seems to be complex and simple at the same time. Contradictory yes, but what I mean is--that while her psychological problems seem to run deep--she is outwardly very one dimensional. We see her as little more than a weepy, confused woman. We have a very small idea of what is actually going on inside her head and in all honesty we don't really want to know. The easy way to explain it all away of course is a type of body dysmorphic disorder, but as with most mental illnesses---things are much more complicated than that.
In My Skin is capable of being analyzed and over analyzed for hours--maybe days. I don't feel I need to talk about any one thing because the film to me seems to be much more of an experience. It's slow, and it's strange and it's not typically something many people would enjoy. It's hard to sit through--but not in the "I'm going to prove to people that I'm a badass way". More in the you dread the moment when you find yourself watching it again way.
The whole thing is just plain unnerving. There is one scene in particular that had me literally vocalizing my tension out loud. During a business dinner Esther begins fantasizing about her arm being unattached from her body.
It's a quick shift that happens but it certainly happens and then you are just left waiting there for the moment of pure what the hell is going on. She then takes her dinner knife and begins cutting away at her flesh (during the BUSINESS DINNER).
To add insult to injury she then switches over to her fork! It's like a car accident that keeps happening over and over again. Meanwhile the business dinner conversation continues to flow without missing a beat. It was surely one of the most distressing dinners I had ever witnessed.
There's all sorts of things to be excited about as a film goer however. One thing that made me particularly interested was the idea that Esther begins forming this almost sexual relationship with her skin. Skin is intimate if you think about it. It's the thing we feel closest to and it evokes images of being naked and sex and all that jazz. Early on in the film there is a moment where Esther and her boyfriend are kissing. I was struck instantly by how awkward and strange that scene felt. Watching people really kissing was never my strong suit mind you, but come on--this doesn't look normal does it? The sucking is too strong!
Then later, during a particularly gruesome cutting effort by Esther, she begins to suck and bite the skin on her arm off. I was at that moment completely amazed that it was made to look like she was passionately kissing her arm!
This scene echoes the beginning one almost perfectly. Esther's relationship with her boyfriend is severely damaged because Esther is too busy being infatuated with her own skin!
Oh jeez there I go again getting all excited and blabbing away. WELL let me just say to wrap things up that In My Skin is very surprising. Gross. Beautiful. Depressing. Romantic. All of the above. A completely thought provoking film that seems minimal on the surface but so, so twisted and complex once you really start thinking things over. Needless to say, the experience of watching In My Skin will change you. Let's just say that you'll never look at those little pieces of skin that you keep in a little plastic baggy, tucked sweetly away in your wallet, the same ever again. You don't know what that means probably, but don't worry--you will.