Saturday, February 19, 2011

Women in Horror: In My Skin

Esther is a self conscious woman who is moving up in the public relations firm she works at. Her boyfriend wants further their relationship and move in together. Her life is pretty successful as a whole, but this all changes when she goes to a party and she severely cuts her leg open when she falls down in her friends' unfinished backyard. The wound goes unnoticed as she dances and mingles until she goes to the bathroom and sees blood running down her leg. She is shocked at the severity of the injury, but still goes out for drinks with her friends before going to the doctor. While patching her up, the doctor notes that it was unusual that she waited hours to get help. The next day, she goes to work as usual, but she is distracted by her wounds and goes into a private room to create new gouges in her leg. This is the start of her obsession with harming herself. Her boyfriend and her co-workers worry about her and are horrified by her sick impulse, but she does it all the same and going to great lengths to blame the injuries on other things. Why is she hurting herself? Can she stop so she can resume her seemingly idyllic life?

In My Skin is a French film that was written and directed Marina de Van, who also starred as Esther. The film is incredibly disturbing and undeniably original. It's far from the conventional slasher type horror film, but features a more subtle Cronenburgian type of horror. Esther could be any one of us because she is the typical middle class everyman. The real triumph of a work like this is the realism and intimacy of the self mutilation scenes and the lack of any clear, defined reason for it. I like that this prompts the viewer to substitute in their own meanings and think for themselves.

One take on the film is that Esther's motivation for her self mutilation stems from a need to fill the void of her shallow, vapid life, much like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. He focused his violence outwardly and Esther looks within. This view is most apparent during a scene where she's having dinner with her boss and some of their clients. At first, Esther is the model employee, engaging intelligently in conversation and making her boss happy. Then she hallucinates that her arm is separate from her body and becomes distracted, succumbing to her self mutilating urges in the wine cellar of the restaurant. This hollow feeling extends to every part of her life. Her boyfriend is controlling, borderline abusive, and picks a fight at every little opportunity. It's no wonder why she seems passively resistant to moving in together. Esther tells her only friend, a coworker, of her obsession perhaps in a cry for help. The next day, that same friend abandons her and allows her to be humiliated at a work party all because she was jealous that Esther was promoted above her. These are the only two real relationships Esther has and they are revealed to be void of any actual human connection.

Another view of the film is that Esther feels disconnected from her body, much like Dawn from Teeth. Again, this is most exemplified in the restaurant scene with her disembodied arm. The only way her body feels whole again is through pain. The scenes of self mutilation are filmed in an intimate, erotic way, as if it's a twisted form of masturbation for her. From the very beginning, she treats it as an illicit affair: hiding it from her boyfriend, telling her friend to gauge her reaction, and lying to hide how often she does it. She even flaunts the behavior in public like an exhibitionist when she stabs herself under the table at a business dinner, cuts herself at work, and fondles chunks of her flesh on the street. Her love and connectedness with her body can only be shown through blood and pain, but she seems to also get pleasure from it.

The self mutilation in the film can also be taken as a metaphor for self destructive behavior such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or eating disorders. It starts out small. The mutilation goes from cutting to drinking her own blood to cutting parts of her flesh off and eating them. At first, the cutting gives her energy and keeps her focused on work. As it worsens, it consumes her life, making it impossible to function normally. At this stage, the behavior is so extreme that it threatens her life. The blood loss and cutting of pieces of flesh invites infection and the possibility of nicking an artery or major vein and bleeding to death. Any other addictive behavior could have been substituted in and it would have fit perfectly. Her attempts to reach out to her friend seems to be a cry for help, but jealousy and bitterness causes the friend to turn her back on Esther. Her boyfriend seems more concerned about controlling her as opposed to actually helping her.

There are probably a million ways for this film to be interpreted, so I'll stop here. This film definitely isn't for everyone. It's not very gory, but it's guaranteed to make you feel uncomfortable. I highly recommend this film, but be warned that it is slow in some parts. This doesn't bother me at all because I think it fits the type of film that it is, but it might bother some. I watched this film over a year ago for the first time and I still feel the need to rewatch it and re-evaluate my theories on it. I highly recommend this engaging and memorable film.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

1 comment:

vvb32 reads said...

ewww, this one i'd rather read your review for than see the images. although that bloody pic... ewww.