Are skinheads and neo-Nazis cool? Actually, they are just about the most uncool thing I can imagine. How stupid do you have to be to become a Nazi? The mind boggles. However, when young men become neo-Nazis it is, in most cases, not really because of any real attraction, either intellectual or emotional, to the Nazi ideology per se. Rather, it is because they have social, familial and personal problems which lead them to rebel by trying to be as provocative as they can, in a desperate attempt to get the attention and affection of their friends and family. That, of course, rarely works, but in some situations, for some people, there is apparently no alternative way of expressing oneself.
Skin (2008) illustrates all this effectively and beautifully. The story takes place in 1979. Frankie, the teenage lead character, has it tough. His father is a Jew who is – psychologically as well as physically – scarred by the concentration camps. He has become insensitive and absent-minded; not exactly an affectionate father. Frankie’s non-Jewish mother has cancer, and ends up in hospital, losing her hair from the ineffectual chemo. Frankie is in desperate need of loving nurture, but can find none.
So naturally, he falls in with his teenage friends, who do drugs, get into fights, etc. It’s the early days of the punk movement, and life on the street is a violent one, and violence has a way of escalating. One gang is made up of immigrants, and a scuffle between two people turns into a major gang feud, leading to Frankie eventually joining the neo-Nazi gang. At the initiation ceremony he receives a swastika tattoo and a big knife. On putting the knife to use, he soon lands in jail – where his tattoo does not go down well with the ethnic inmates.
Through it all, it is clear that Frankie is mainly misbehaving because of his difficulties in relating to his father. Driven by despair, every development is one more stumble towards tragedy; accidental but under the circumstances also somehow inevitable. The movie effectively demonstrates how every effort father and son make to put things right between them instead becomes a reason to further the distance. They do not understand each other and cannot reach each other.
At some point, however, it all becomes too psycho-analytical. As per good Freudian formula, the whole and entire cause of Frankie’s misery is his troubled relationship with his parents. Personally, I believe that society is responsible for people’s development far more than the parents are, and Freudianism is a theory that tries to reduce all the myriad influences of society to something proceeding only from the mother and father. It’s a simplified and reductionist model which disregards all sorts of socio-political factors integral to the human condition.
Still, as we say here in Denmark, ”exaggeration furthers comprehension”, and a simplified model of human behavior and development is a lot better than no model, and to be honest it serves this movie well, getting a good message across.
Skin has been compared to This is England (2006), but it actually reminded me much more of The Believer (2001), since Frankie had a Jewish father.
The DVD is in Dutch with English subtitles, and also contain a trailer, but nothing more and is released in the UK on the 12th June 2011.
Director: Hanro Smitsman
Cast: Robert de Hoog, John Buijsman, Juda Goslinga, Juliann Ubbergen and others
Runtime: 85 min.
Country: The Netherlands