Pedro Almodóvar’s 2011 horror film The Skin I Live In is a strangely muted experience that leaves audiences a little dumbstruck if not a little confused because of its treatment of the conventions of the Rape-Revenge narrative.
From the inciting incident in the garden at a wedding party to the multiple events of rape that occur throughout the narrative, the film has a disquieting, desensitizing effect on the idea of rape.
What is rape? Is what happened in the garden enough to constitute rape? Does it matter that the girl, unsocialized and excluded from society as she had been, was accidentally (mis)leading the guy on? Or what about the fact that he was high as a kite? What if he pulled out the moment he realized there was a miscommunication or showed remorse later on? Can these be considered ameliorating circumstances? If so, does the punishment fit the crime?
In a typical rape-revenge narrative there are the excruciatingly drawn out moments of sexual violence enacted on a helpless (female) individual followed by a sequence where the violated individual recovers after her ordeal and plans her revenge before going all-out on her attackers bringing the narrative to a bloody conclusion.
Almodóvar’s film problematizes this by softening the inciting incident by suggesting multiple ameliorating factors, having the avenging figure be a male character, and creating an elaborate revenge plot, that some would argue is much too severe for the crime in question, that simultaneously allows the turning of rape itself into the revenge, particularly the rape enacted on yet another female body. I suppose on one level it makes you wonder why rape-revenge is even a genre that exists and when we watch films that are part of this genre what are we watching them for? For the rape or the revenge?
I wanted to say something about the shared dream sequence too but it doesn’t seem to quite go with the rest of this post about rape-revenge narratives so I’ll save it for another time.