The Skin I Live In

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

God damn it but I am really angry and upset right now. I don’t know honestly why I have continued to watch Almodovar’s films despite such incredibly tone-deaf stories as Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, but this is my last one for sure. No amount of beautiful photography and good direction is going to redeem this film for me. I’ve had it with Almodovar’s incredibly simplistic and reductive understanding of gender and sexuality, and clearly he is not about to change. 

Full disclosure, I couldn’t finish the film. Maybe it redeems itself somehow in the last half-hour. But at the point that I realized that the film’s “shocking twist” was involuntary gender transition, I couldn’t continue. 

Almodovar clearly has done his research, as his portrayals of the physical realities of gender transition are relatively accurate (fixation with surgery notwithstanding) as things go. Yet his understanding of the trans experience is nonexistent. In this film he has reached a new low, choosing to portray gender transition not as a voluntary process of affirmation but as a brutal and inhuman punishment. One might think that in this “woke” era that we could move beyond using the trans experience as a form of body horror, but apparently not, because as of this writing this film is available to stream from Criterion.

Now, it should go without saying that an involuntary gender reassignment likely would be horrific. But consider that the reason it would be horrific is that it would subject the victim to  gender dysphoria, the psychological hell that motivates trans people to change in the first place.  But this isn’t what Almodovar is interested in exploring here. The “fully-transitioned” victim, as seen at the beginning of the film, appears to be completely at ease and has settled comfortably into her new role as Almodovar’s typical female protagonist ragdoll, tossed hither and thither according to the sexual appetites of the male characters.

The “film buff” community needs to demand better. Almodovar is a great director, but his stories tend to reinforce repugnant old gender stereotypes that should have died off ages ago. This film hinges entirely on using gender transition as a means to shock and horrify cis people, and its understanding of women, cis or otherwise, is reductive and belittling. Being technically well constructed shouldn’t be enough to qualify something as a “highbrow” film. We need to expect better than the recycling of these kinds of tired, regressive tropes into a new, artsy package.

I’m not expecting the entirety of the film landscape to “get woke.” I’m not even sure that’s something we should aspire to. But I would like to see the intellectual wing of the moviegoing public to start to question whether something this harmful is deserving of their time, regardless of how well-made it is.

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