THE SKIN I LIVE IN
Pedro Almodóvar’s, The Skin I Live In (2011), is a troubling film. It asks the viewer to consider how claustrophobic it may feel to be imprisoned in a body which one does not believe represents one’s true identity. Further, the parallels between the young boy, Vincente/Vera’s (played by Elena Anaya), imprisonment in the small room, and the inner entrapment he also faces is unmissable. In the film, the protagonist, a surgeon (played by Antonio Banderas) seeking revenge for the apparent mistreatment of his young daughter (who later commits suicide), imprisons the suspected offender and forces him to undergo gender reassignment surgery. The film is not for the faint-hearted, with rape, suicide and violence either being shown or explicitly inferred throughout. The captive also plays the role of the surgeon’s human guinea pig, and is subjected to trying out a new type of skin which is made from pig hide. What is remarkable about the new skin is that it lacks any blemishes or redness, and asks the viewer to consider how new technological improvements could offer individuals who have undergone facial trauma, the opportunity to re-establish their former identities (at least, structurally). One wonders how those who have previously been subjected to ostracism because of their deformities could be viewed if their faces could be re-modeled to resemble a normal structure. This would inevitably affect their status, for many cultures deem children with deformities as demi-gods, or even, demonic. It is interesting to consider how a new skin would affect the allocation of personhood and how this could impact those who have suffered facial malformations.
Another interesting aspect of The Skin I live In, is the film’s brush with the queer community and its portrayal of some of the struggles faced by its members. Throughout the film, the notion of transgender identities is explored and the link between gender and identity, and how changing the former can alter the latter, is discussed. The viewer shows the confusion caused by someone who feels that their sexual organs are not in accordance with their perceived gender. Trace Thurman in, Horror Queers: Dissecting the Moral Dilemma of ‘The Skin I Live In’, suggests that on first watching the film, any queer references are forgotten, however, on a second viewing, the inferences become more poignant and at times, unmissable. Distracted by the frequent violence, one does not stop to consider the sexuality of protagonist, Dr. Robert Ledgard, and the motives which dictate his actions. Ledgard’s relationship with Vera may be considered heterosexual, if it were not for the forced transition that Vincent was subjected to. This asks the audience to question whether or not those in the trans-community who have transitioned (surgically or otherwise) and engage in relationships with the (now) opposite sex, are performing homosexual or heterosexual acts.
On reflection, The Skin I Live In is an important film, as it demands the viewer to analyze their own perceptions of gender and identity and consider the elements which form their creation. Although raising such a question may offend members of the queer community, it does invite critical discussion which could ultimately help members of the public understand and support their cause. I aim for my studio practice to raise similar questions and inspire independent thought.
Thurman, T. (2018). Horror Queers: Dissecting the Moral Dilemma of ‘The Skin I Live In’. [online] Bloody Disgusting!. Available at: https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3478093/queer-fear-the-skin-i-live-in/ [Accessed 18 Jun. 2018].