The Skin I Live In
The Skin I Live In is a foreign psychological thriller from the highly acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. His work is often compared to Alfred Hitchcock’s and it is easy to see why. Even though it was shot and set in present time the film looks like it could be from the 60’s when Hitchcock was around. As the title slightly suggests, the film is about how you still remain the same inside even if your outside has been completely changed.
Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a brilliant plastic surgeon according to his colleagues. His specialty is facial and skin transplants. Brilliant he may be but we soon find out that his work closely resembles that of Frankenstein. The goal of Robert’s experiment is to create the perfect female body, he calls her Vera.
Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) is locked up in a room in Doctor Robert Ledgard’s large mansion but we do not know why. She receives her food and reading material via a dumbwaiter. Surveillance cameras watch her every move and he handles her with tremendous care. She tries to commit suicide but again we do not know why. We must wait for Almodóvar’s masterfully crafted narrative to unfold for answers to such questions.
The new artificial skin Robert has created is resistant to every insect bite thus it can prevent diseases such as malaria. This is because it smells different from normal human skin so it repels mosquitoes from wanting to bite it. Also it cannot be burned easily due to using some pig cells to strengthen it. After he reveals his secret of using pig cells, the president of the institute of biotechnology informs him of how the bioethics of doing such a thing is forbidden then threatens to report him if he continues with this experiment.
While Robert is pondering what to do with Vera as her skin has been successfully healed from his transgenic therapy experiment, another part of the storyline develops. The primary servant of Robert, Marilia (Marisa Paredes), is reunited with her son Zeca (Roberto Álamo) who is trying to hide from local police for stealing jewelry. Zeca’s plan is to have Robert operate on his face so that he will not be recognizable by the police but Marilia quickly scolds him saying that Robert would never do the operation.
You get a sense that Marilia is afraid of her son just by their conversation which is then confirmed when she pulls a gun on him and instructs him to leave. She says to him, “You’re not my son. I just gave birth to you.” Zeca grabs the gun from her and notices Vera on the surveillance screen. Somehow she looks familiar to him. This is one of many plot thicken scenes that keep you engaged until the credits roll.
The difficult part of doing this review is not to give away any big clues. As with any good thriller/mystery, figuring out what happens is what makes it so entertaining. Almodóvar tells the story in a beautiful yet crafty way methodically giving you clues here and there. The thriller at times treads close to the line of horror but never quite crosses the line.
Almodóvar’s previous work has proven him as a cinematic artist whose eye for beauty is rarely surpassed. The Skin I Live In is no exception to that. It would be hard to walk away from the film without vivid images burned into your head, the styling is top notch (the perverse nature of the film adds to this as well).
The Skin I Live In would have ended better if it did not explain itself in the very last scene. I did not think it was needed, unless you were not paying attention during the film as it was alluded to on multiple occasions. That is really is my old compliant, and a small one at that, it ended about a minute too long. The film is an amazing yet bizarre thriller that involves a mad scientist creating perfect beauty as a way of filling a void in this life that results in a disturbing vengeance.