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Antonio Banderas was the actor of the weekend. I discovered that I had a free loyalty movie ticket that was going to expire during the next week so I needed to use it or lose it as well as some free popcorn and soda coupons. I used them to see Puss in Boots. Of course, he voiced the lead character Puss in this spin off from the Shrek franchise. Light, care free family fare with Banderas speaking in English with a few words in Spanish. The other movie was very different clocking in at just under two hours (117 minutes to be precise) and rated R for disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language and done in Spanish with English subtitles. Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard in The Skin I Live In.
This feeling, the longing to help a family member or situation is the genesis act for the birth of a mad doctor and scientist. We’ve seen it happen over and over again where they become so obsessed that they leave any sense of morality and ethics along the roadside. Quite frequently the collateral damage is either overlooked or is unknown with consequences to take place down the road. One of the more recent movie examples is Rise of the Plant of the Apes. The good doc wants to create a serum that will cure the Alzheimer’s afflicting his dad; instead it gave the primates the intelligence and spread a virus that killed millions of people. Or on Fringe on TV, an engineer builds a time bubble based off his theoretical physicist wife’s notes in order to go back in time before she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s not realizing that his time bubble created other time bubbles destroying property and lives in the process. It’s just coincidence that in both examples Alzheimer’s was the reasoning. It’s no coincidence that the love for the family member pushed them over the edge.
Experimentation of this magnitude is never done in a vacuum; the doctor inevitably has to have someone else either as an accomplice or as the guinea pig or victim and sometimes both. Ledgard has Marilia (Marisa Paredes) his longtime housekeeper assisting him with keeping victim Vera (Elena Anaya) imprisoned up in El Cigarral, the doctor’s large beautiful estate. Vera is locked in a room with cameras being monitored by the doctor and Marilia. She is not allowed out of the room, food is given via a dumb waiter and only the doctor has the key to the room. Vera wears a beige colored full body unitard that included gloves and foot coverings with individual toes (think the Vibram FiveFinger shoes). Instead of mice as the doctor has told other doctors at a conference, his experimental skin which doesn’t burn and is impervious to mosquitoes has been placed on Vera. These characteristics would have saved his wife, the selfish motive, and helping others, the public motive, by reducing the spread of malaria. These were his justifications for pushing the limits of the science and technology.
This is not your typical mad doctor movie. There is a deliberateness, a slowness and calmness about the mansion. Being a plastic surgeon, artwork (rather large ones too!) showing the human form with lots of skin exposed are decorating the walls of El Cigarral. Classical music stylings featuring piano and strings form the background music for the piece. There is a brightness and clarity in many of the scenes instead of the creepy dark and foreboding typical of the mad scientist genre. What is really dark and foreboding is Ledgard’s soul and spirit as he continues his work on Vera.
Many of the scenes were easily watchable for their visuals but at times left a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when the implications of the dialogue settled into my brain. Why did Legard continue to do what he did? Why would the accomplice stay there knowing the results come at such a great cost? The gore was not graphic but some of the themes expressed by director Pedro Almodóvar were unsettling…very unsettling. As depicted by the rating, there was violent content that was tough to watch. Almodóvar laid out the story in a non-linear fashion and along different points of view from the characters each adding a new layer changing your perception of the situation giving you information that the characters themselves did not have to round out their world view of the events. This works well to build up to the final climax and reveal that had people in my theater responding to audibly. It came out of nowhere and hit you in between the eyes with a two by four.
If you go see The Skin I Live In, just know that it’s not your run of the mill mad scientist. Banderas does not have the wild grey hair, thick glasses, crooked teeth and lab coat prevalent of most mad doctors…well, actually he does have the lab coat, but only when working in the lab! He’s suave, smooth, calculating and diabolically deliberate, yet charming and sophisticated. If you can handle the implications of his work, you’ll have a different style of movie in your hands.
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