Theme of the Month: Growing Pains


Image based on two theatrical posters for “Mysterious Skin”

By Braden Turk

Theme of the Month is an article series designed to investigate examples of film, television, and writing that fall under a certain category. This month’s theme is “Growing Pains,” or works that are part of the coming-of-age genre.

“Mysterious Skin”

Adapted from the book by Scott Heim, “Mysterious Skin” follows the parallel lives of Neil and Brian, two teenagers who deal with the same childhood trauma in drastically different ways. Brian has suppressed his memories, retreating into a story of alien abduction; Neil becomes a prostitute, hustling after older men. As they go about their daily routines, the two unknowingly draw closer and closer to one another until they face the truth together.

Child abuse is no easy topic to cover, but “Mysterious Skin” approaches it from a sensitive and thoughtful angle. The film has an eye for the psychological effects on its victims rather than sensationalism.

On my first watch, I thought it was only Brian who accepted his trauma. However, when reading between the lines, one can see both of the boys grow as characters; their developments just happen in different ways. Two viewings are beneficial not only for this, too, as there are many “callbacks” to events we don’t find out about until later.

The plot isn’t very hard to keep track of, but building a complex story isn’t the film’s goal. It is the maturation, growth, and experiences of its characters that truly matter to “Mysterious Skin.”



“Nothing amazing happens here.”

Sixth-grader Naota Nandaba lives by these words, and we’re inclined to believe him as we witness his stagnant home life and lazy afternoon meetings with his brother’s ex-girlfriend. 

Naota’s average existence is interrupted, however, by the arrival of Haruko, a Vespa-riding, guitar-wielding maniac whose first action is to run Naota over with her motorbike. As any good Samaritan would, she performs CPR — only to immediately slug him on the forehead with her guitar. Soon enough, Naota is spawning giant robots out of his head, fighting an evil mega-corporation, and dealing with his first crush.

If that synopsis sounds nonsensical to you, then that’s fine: plot comes second to thematics in “FLCL.” Running at six episodes, its main antagonist isn’t explained until the second half, and even then the goals of the characters are open to interpretation.

Alternative rock band “The Pillows” provides the series’ soundtrack, a collection of catchy songs that intrigue the viewer and then reel them in. The visuals by GAINAX are similarly impressive, featuring kinetic animation and extreme camera angles.

Full of non-stop gags, memorable tunes, and ridiculously unsubtle imagery, “FLCL” is an unrelenting assault on the cerebrum with a surprisingly large heart.


Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

“The Graduate”

Stuck in that hazy limbo between college and the workforce, Benjamin Braddock seems perpetually balanced between maturation and a complete mental breakdown. This makes him particularly vulnerable to the charms of Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s friend, but things soon go awry when he falls for her daughter, Elaine.

“The Graduate” is often regarded as one of the best American films of all time, and it isn’t hard to see why. Its performances are top-notch, the dialogue iconic (“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me… aren’t you?”), and the story able is to connect with audiences young and old.

The film is also notable for its soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel; the relationship was mutually beneficial, as the folk-rock duo’s popularity soared after the movie’s release. A few of the hit songs include “The Sound of Silence,” “Scarborough Fair,” and, of course, “Mrs. Robinson.”

There isn’t much to say about “The Graduate” that hasn’t been said already; it’s funny, deadpan, and even a little frightening. Just remember: there’s a great future in plastics.