“The Skin I Live In”: Campy, Creepy Tale of Vengeful Mad Scientist

The mad-scientist tale has remained more or less fixed since the beginning of sound cinema: From Dr. Frankenstein's claim to “know what it feels like to be God,” to Jurassic Park's criticism of “scientists [who] were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should,” these are stories about scientific innovators who are essentially good men — or were until they got so carried away with their own powers of creation. The main narrative of Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In hews to that template, but to unusual ends: Its moral compass is totally, thrillingly whacked as Almodóvar dispenses with traditional notions of good versus evil, perpetrators and victims. Almodovar's 18th feature stars Antonio Banderas as Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon who develops a revolutionary new human skin that ultimately plays a role in his diabolical plot to avenge the deaths of his wife and daughter. The link between Dr. Ledgard's invention and that payback is Vera (Elena Anaya), a beautiful patient the doctor keeps in a room in the palatial home he shares with his maid (Marisa Paredes). It's probably not much of a surprise that no member of this triangle is exactly who they seem to be, but to explain more would spoil much of the pleasure in this ever-unfurling, ultimately infuriating web of a film, which deflates in its final third with crude set pieces, dumb psychology, and bursts of camp canceling out the creepiness.

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