Directed by Gregg Araki, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Elizabeth Shue, Chase Ellison. George Webster, Michelle Trachtenberg, Bill Sage and Eric Preston.
Brian Lackey (Corbet) is missing five hours from his life. Plagued by nightmares since the age of eight, when he awoke with a nosebleed on the road in front of his parents' house, he has grown into a withdrawn and awkward teenager. Filling the gaps in his memory with tales of UFOs and alien abductions, his dreams are laced with memories of Neil, a little-league baseball team-mate he barely knew.
Neil McCormick (Gordon-Levitt) was the best player on his baseball team. His coach (Sage) would take care of him after school when his mother wasn't around. A father figure of sorts, Neil spent many hours in coach's company, the apparent easy companionship leading to eventual, shocking molestation.
Based on a novel by Scott Heim, director Gregg Araki portrays the lives of these young men searching for answers to childhood questions. The abuse suffered by Neil, dealt with in the first part of the movie, is depicted with unnerving tenderness. Araki deliberately toys with the audience's disgust in showing scenes of child abuse in a matter-of-fact way, without obviously emphasising the evil nature of the incident through the music or lighting. Indeed the soft focus style of these early scenes hints at how an older Neil will choose to recall his experiences at the hands of his abuser.
Recollection is something that later dominates the life of Brian. 10 years have passed, and he lives only miles from his former team-mate, albeit in a different world. Neil has become a nihilistic teen prostitute with a "bottomless black hole where his heart should be", while Brian lives at home, struggling to comprehend the clues his fractured memory has left him. Circumstances draw the two together, as they attempt to come to terms with their childhoods.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of 'Third Rock from the Sun' fame, delivers a commanding performance as the troubled teen Neil. A startlingly unconventional central character, Neil cherishes the emotional scars of his abuse, fondly remembering how he was made to feel 'special' by his coach. Embarking on a self-destructive life as a prostitute in New York, he coldly greets every situation with the same studied apathy.
No attempt is made to judge the actions of Neil, or any of the characters for that matter, and the absence of an overriding moral tone in the movie leads to a feeling of disturbing authenticity. Both Elizabeth Shue and Michelle Trachtenberg, as Neil's mother and best friend respectively, provide the kind of depth that makes it seem unjust that their characters remain peripheral.
Araki, whose earlier films such as 'Doom Generation' managed to be both experimental and challenging without actually being any good, treats this compelling story with the delicate touch it deserves. While his taste for pushing boundaries remains – there are some truly shocking scenes – the obscenity is justified within such a dark tale. Brutal and compelling.