Monday, July 12

Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin (2004)
  • Neil McCormick - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
  • Brian Lackey - Brady Corbet

Warning: the following post contains spoilers of Mysterious Skin that I cannot avoid mentioning. Read at your own risk!

“Mysterious Skin” is without a doubt a mysterious film. It is not a movie that continuously draws tangents to create mysteries; however the character development is in every sense mysterious. The film tells a story of two molested boys who eventually cross paths again 10 years later. One boy cannot forget his childhood and enjoys reminiscing, the other boy cannot remember and wishes to learn these memories.

Neil McCormick acknowledged his homosexuality from a very young age. He grew up to be a promiscuous rent-boy, selling his services to older men in exchange for enjoyment and financial benefit. Becoming bored of his humble town in Kansas, Neil chased the big city of New York, where he could expand his clientele and continue to feed his hedonistic desires. His development from a molested boy to a rent-boy is terribly moving and forces the viewer to question Neil’s psychosexual development, especially the transition from pre-pubescence to early adulthood. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting convinces the viewer his character enjoys his occupation no matter how deep his psychological issues run.

At a young age Brian Lackey was on the same peewee baseball team as Neil McCormick. As he was leaving a Halloween house he experiences his first sexual encounter with Neil in the prime of his pre-pubescence. Brian became frightened of Neil and ran away only to cross paths with his baseball coach, the paedophile that molested his teammate. A decade later, after watching a documentary on alien abductions, he endeavoured to fill the voids in his memory. He later learned in order to understand the voids he needed to meet Neil. However Brian narrowly missed Neil, who moved to New York earlier that day. After re-meeting Neil 10 years later Brian is reminded of his childhood experiences; his memories were suppressed and replaced with alien abductions. Adolescence and young adulthood was extremely puzzling for Brian. Psychologically speaking, he developed to be asexual and a loner by the truest definition, only making a friend after Neil left for New York.

There is a sense of realism throughout the film despite its outlandish nature. The paedophile did not receive any form of retribution and the boys grew up to be normal men albeit psychologically scarred. They could only grow up to be a result of their experiences and unfortunately their na├»vety as children was abused. One has to wonder how Neil and Brian would develop had their childhood been a childhood. The abuse not only affected the boys but their ability to form relationships as teenagers; both Brian and Neil made the same one friend in their twilight teens. Additionally, Neil stayed friends with his “soul mate”, a girl who witnessed the sexual act between prepubescent Neil and Brian, the first event that triggered Brian’s alien-abduction-escapism.

Although the film was made in the early years of the new millennium, there is unfortunately still a lack of justice and retribution for paedophiles. Furthermore, there is also a lack of psychological support for both the abuser and abused. A real life example that should come to mind is the scandalous Catholic Church - the Pope himself has said that sexual abuse is increasingly becoming synonymous to the Church but little is being done for psychological reform. Germany is the first country in the world to run a government funded initiative aimed to prevent potential child sex abusers from abusing. According to The Age there is estimated to be more than 2 million adult Australians living through the impacts of child sex abuse. This number is far too high and should ring alarm bells for the government: a prevention program similar to Germany’s initiative should be installed in Australia. As the old adage goes: prevention is better than a cure.

With the previous paragraph being said, no matter how well the victim recovers the implications of sexual abuse are forever lasting. Mysterious Skin successfully makes a statement of the general effects of child sex abuse. Whether the abuse is of a heterosexual or homosexual nature the vulnerability and suggestibility of children is far too delicate for the abuse to not go unnoticed later.

However, such is life.

Judging from the development of all characters, the inflictions obviously influenced their personality and their ability to form relationships, familial or otherwise. The film ends in the coach’s old residence with Brian resting his head in Neil’s lap exhibiting obvious distress. Throughout the film Neil always showed levity and strength when he discussed his childhood, but in this particular scene he was stripped down to the core - the raw emotion could overwhelm the hardest of the hardened.

Mysterious Skin is by no means nihilistic nor avant-garde. Although scenes of an amoral nature are dotted throughout the film, it really begs the audience to question their morals and reflect how their collected experiences have created them today. Morals are rarely black and white and also extremely subjective. This film is a perfect starting point for questioning psychological development, society and morals and sexual identity and acceptance.

Wednesday, July 7

Burqas, Islam & You

I recently had a stimulating discussion with a Twitter friend (@Frezzi) about the proposed ban of niqabs in France which eventuated into a discussion about Western values versus Islamic values.

I must stress that the following passages are only an opinion.
What does the burqa symbolise? Is the "this is oppressive" argument made by the West only a coincidence? The pioneers of restricting Islamic garments are in fact Islamic countries: in Tunisia's case, the country as a whole; in Turkey's case, in schools and government buildings. These decisions were obviously made from a Muslim's point of view and were by no means perpetuated by Western values and beliefs.
The burqa, the word originating from "to patch up", is traditionally comprised of a jilbab, a hijab and sometimes a niqab.
  • Jilbab - covers the entire body except the face, hands and head
  • Hijab - meaning curtain, covers the head, symbolises morality and modesty
  • Niqab - meaning mask, covers the face leaving a rectangular slit for the eyes
The justification for these garments is in the Qur'an:
O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters, and the women of
the faithful, to draw their wraps over them. They will thus
be recognised and no harm will come to them.
God is forgiving and kind.
Qur'an 33:59
So why has Tunisia and Turkey restricted the wearing of religious garments? In these countries there is a political stigma attached to the garments, not oppression and gender segregation. The Tunisian government have specifically described Islamic garments as a "garment of foreign origin having a partisan connotation". Turkey, a secular country, has lifted the ban on universities because of the policy's growing unpopularity but naturally secularists have not welcomed the change. 99% of Turkey is Muslim.
The wearing of hijabs in Bangladesh and Morocco is discouraged. On the other hand, wearing hijabs and similar head-scarves are a status symbol and fashionable accessory in Indonesia and Egypt. Interestingly, some Indonesian girls also wear the hijab to detract unwanted male attention from themselves and ultimately prevent molestation. In Iran, it is necessary for women to cover themselves according to the Qur'an but wearing a niqab or hijab are not obligatory.
With the rise of immigration, Western countries, especially Western Europe, are facing issues of ethnic diversity accompanied by "refused assimilation". Border-racist policies and suggestions have arisen as a result of Islam's growing presence in the Western World. Geert Wilders suggested deporting all Muslims from the Netherlands and banning them from entering the country. Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly announced that burqas are "not welcome" in France, comparatively mild in comparison to Wilder's proposal. Marino Keulen of Belgium is pushing for burqas to be banned from agreeing municipalities. What is the West's rationale behind these bans? Security, gender equality and cultural assimilation. In other words, fear and differing philosophical and theological opinions on identity.
Nearly a quarter of the world, 1.5 billion people, are Muslim. According to bell curves and the general difference between humans there is undoubtedly a large range of Muslims that can be arranged on a spectrum. A tiny, tiny bit voluntarily wear burqas and other Islamic garments, an even tinier portion are forced to wear them. If we ban burqas we are denying a freedom of expression, not freeing women from oppression. If you want to set people free, why don't we increase our fight against racism or countries that still use slavery? Banning garments that hold moral values will ban the freedom to express one's moral values.

Tuesday, May 25

Batten down the hatches, we're in for some rough peace

Who sunk my battleship?

There have been recent accusations of North Korea sinking a South Korean warship, which apparently was the last straw for the South Koreans. This is not the first time North Korea has provoked their Southern counterparts. Both nations have been at war since 1950, and technically speaking, the war has not yet ended because no peace treaty was signed.

An opinion I recently read was that World War III will break out, Russia and China will side with North Korea and the rest of the world (except Iran, no one knows what's going on there) with South Korea. Not only do I find this ludicrous, in addition, I can define three reasons why this won't happen.

1. This will reverse China's efforts in the last thirty years

China's Cultural Revolution left an unsavoury taste in the World's mouth. It gave rise to a dictatorship that was comparable to both Hitler and Stalin, for the amount of deaths recorded during his leadership was 50 to 70 million people. However, he is now heralded as one of the World's most influential people because he managed to set modern China up for huge leaps and bounds in economics. China is now one of the largest economies in the world; every household has something made in China.

Siding with North Korea in war, though they are allies, would be an idiotic move on their part. More so in the last ten years, China has finally entered the World stage and spending billions of dollars to make an impression, and an incredible one if I may say so myself. They rely on the West for raw resource imports in exchange for export purchases. During the Global Financial Crisis, China was one of the only countries still prospering which is a historical achievement. Not only will they risk destroying their reputation in the West, their economy will take a blow that will far exceed the GFC.

2. Prosperous global relations will take a blow

I can imagine the imminence of World War III being a popular propaganda/conspiracy theory breeding ground. If you believe that Russia and China will side with North Korea in war then you should do your research. Though there may be some alliances between these said countries, both governments are partaking active roles in strengthening global relations. Presumably, it's a very American mindset to believe that Russia and China are taking over the World. I don't know if people think this because of a zeitgeist originating from the Cold War days or China's dominating economy, but the mass media is powerful enough to impair informed judgement.

Some evidence that Russia is trying to repair relations after the arms race is playing host to the next Winter Olympics or fighting the growing Nazi culture that is unfortunately rampant in some areas. China is currently hosting the World Expo, has hosted the Summer Olympics and has a fast-developing space program. All of these events and programs require foreign involvement. They wouldn't make these investments for nothing.

3. The US vs. North Korea?

This is not as inevitable as it may seem. A number of countries are involved when it comes to maintaining peace in the Korean region. China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and The US have all held close ties to North Korea ever since North Korea claimed to own nuclear weapons. Though North Korea has breached some international sanctions the US no longer considers North Korea as a "state sponsor of terrorism". If nuclear warfare were to break out, North Korea would more than likely be outnumbered in arms. Assuming China and Russia are smart with their diplomatic alignments, they will urge North Korea to reassess the situation before war occurs.

I like to think of North Korea's alliances with Russia, and China to a lesser extent, as a parallel to Germany and Russia during World War II. Germany feared Russia because, during that time, they were an economical powerhouse and Hitler knew the Russians were more than capable of destroying Germany. Am I allowed to draw the same parallels to this situation? They seem oddly familiar to me - differing ideologies, mutual support between the three but do not correspond unless needed.

Geographically speaking, both China and Russia are within close proximity to North Korea. If borders are shared then an alliance makes sense. But this is the only time it makes sense. Communism is now a minority in the ex-USSR: the recent election in Ukraine proved they'd rather be in the centre than the left, much like Russia. China is also making progress by taking baby steps into democratic liberalism. In addition, capitalism and consumerism is now engulfing China from the moment economic reform became effective. Does this politically align with North Korea? No. Then why the alliance?

When WWI broke out, did they call it WWI from the get-go? How about WWII? Warfare between the Koreas is unlikely given the current, peaceful political climate. To call it an imminent WWIII is baseless, irresponsible fear-mongering.