Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Skin Deep? Surgical Horror and the Impossibility of Becoming Woman in Almodóvar's the Skin I Live In

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Skin Deep? Surgical Horror and the Impossibility of Becoming Woman in Almodóvar's the Skin I Live In

Article excerpt


Almodóvar's films have long been concerned with on-screen representations of masculine tyranny and the gender-blurring quality of the of the transgender body. The Skin I Live In (2011) analyses these tensions by exploring the possibilities of a complete alteration of the male body by means of transgenesis. Taking its cues from canonical surgical horror like Franju's Les yeux sans visage (1960), Almodóvar's film is both an indictment of the recent turn to clinical bodies in art and cinema, and a critique of what Susie Orbach has called 'beauty terror' (2009), or the horror inspired by the incapacity to have a perfect body. In this article I analyse these contextual coordinates through a productive dialogue with recent developments in Gender Studies, particularly transgender identities (Butler, Deleuze and Guattari, Salamon) and body modification (Orlan) and argue for the potential liberation of the sentient subject through dermography.


El cine de Almodóvar ha tendido a centrarse en la representación en pantalla de la tiranía masculina y en los atributos liminales del cuerpo transexual. La piel que habito (2011) analiza estas tensiones explorando la posibilidad de una alteración completa del cuerpo masculino a través de la transgénesis. Tomando nota del horror quirúrgico de películas como Les yeux sans visage (1960) de Franju, esta película es tanto una protesta ante el reciente giro clínico en arte y cine, como una crítica a lo que Susie Orbach ha llamado 'terror de belleza' (2009), o terror inspirado en torno a la incapacidad de tener un cuerpo perfecto. En este artículo analizo estas coordinadas contextuales mediante un diálogo fructífero con acontecimientos recientes en estudios de género, en particular identidades transexuales (Butler, Deleuze y Guattari, Salamon) y modificaciones corporales (Orlan), y me posiciono a favor de la posible liberación del sujeto a través de la dermografía.

Pedro Almodóvar's latest film, The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) (2011),1 has created controversy, with reviewers deeming it both 'his most obscenely entertaining' and 'shamelessly exploitative' work to date (Ide 2011). In many ways, it is a revision of his main thematic concerns. Blood ties and family legacies, genetics or doubles, all feature importantly (Evans 2011), but as Peter Bradshaw has noted, this film also means a return to the male voyeurism and captivity of earlier pieces such as Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (¡Átame!, 1990) or Kika (1993) and his interest in transsexual identity (Bradshaw 2011). The emphasis this time lies in the potentially closed-offnature of biology, as well as the impending threat of science (the word 'bioethics' makes its appearance within the film's first ten minutes) and the tyrannical male law embodied by Dr Ledgard (Antonio Banderas).

Lack of consistency with regards to integrity of identity, as well as a dubious alignment with both crime perpetrator and victim, make for a decidedly ambiguous experience that, as I want to propose, is steeped in contemporary debates on issues of gender construction and transgender politics. Simultaneously, this article seeks to position The Skin I Live In in dialogue with the surgical horror of other cinematic products and artistic practices which it echoes. By analysing how Almodóvar's film borrows directly from surgical horror and the closely related 'torture porn' phenomenon, but also how it holds back at times by making certain visual choices, I argue that his latest work ultimately exposes the limitations of the corporeal investments of recent horror. While The Skin I Live In is influenced by the mise-en-scène of films like Saw (2004) or Hostel (2005), its treatment of captivity and torture is markedly different, relying on a more politicized understanding of gender dynamics. By suggesting that woman could potentially be a product of man, a malleable mass of clinically-grown and enhanced skin, Almodóvar can be seen to be questioning the perils of a society that has quartered and dissected womanhood to exhaustion in order to satisfy the requirements of individuals with specific physical fixations. …

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