what i'm watching: mysterious skin, things behind the sun

We saw another very good movie last night: "Mysterious Skin". It's about two boys, a trauma they suffered when they were very young, and how it plays out in their lives as they grow into adulthood.

It's excellently done. I'd caution anyone who's been touched by child sexual abuse, either as a survivor or someone who loves one, to tread carefully. I'd want to be in the right frame of mind when I saw it. But I'd see it.

This movie reminded me of another overlooked movie, "Things Behind The Sun", written and directed by one of my favourite filmmakers, Alison Anders. That movie also explores how the past plays out in our lives - and how the past will continue to poison the present - until it is dealt with head-on.

"Things Behind The Sun" never preaches, never has a character stand on a soapbox to educate us, but speaks volumes about surviving rape. Anders, a rape survivor herself, returned to the place where she was assaulted to make this movie. It's one of the best works I know of, in any media, about sexual assault.

"Mysterious Skin" does something similar on the theme of child sexual abuse.

"Mysterious Skin" also involves something I haven't seen portrayed in a movie before: that many people who believe they were abducted by aliens have been victims of sexual abuse. For anyone familiar with the patterns, it can be very obvious: descriptions of scary monsters entering the bedroom, of "probes" and "examinations", lost time. When a survivor with deeply repressed memories comes upon descriptions of alien abductions, it seems to explain what happened to them, and their own hazy, incomplete memories meld with the television version.

Imagine: it's easier to live with the thought that creatures from another galaxy beamed you up to their space ship and conducted experiments on you, than the thought that your stepfather visited your room at night and raped you, and your mother didn't stop him.

So there's no confusion, I myself am not a survivor of child sexual abuse. I was a young adult when I was raped, by a stranger. Through my work (as a volunteer and as a writer) in sexual assault advocacy and education, I've interviewed many childhood survivors, heard them speak publicly, learned about the effects of childhood sexual trauma in adult lives. It's very heavy. The most disturbing part, surely, is how common it is.

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