Reflecting Skin (The) (1990)
R2 - Japan - Imagica/Kinokuniya
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (21st November 2005).
The Film

“Sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally” is the tagline of “The Reflecting Skin” - a film by the British director/writer Philip Ridley - and it sums up the mood of the film quite nicely. This was the first feature film by Ridley, who after this directed only one film, “The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995)”, and went on to write children´s novels (also a few adult novels and radio plays). “The Reflecting Skin” won several international awards, and it´s a bit of a mystery why Ridley walked away from movie making after a very promising start. Maybe after all, he liked the writing better (the screenplay of “The Reflecting Skin” is also done by Ridley).

To me, “The Reflecting Skin” is very nearly a masterpiece. The story is simple, but yet complex. The imagery is beautiful, but yet frightening. The locations are ordinary, but yet strange. There are some aspects in the story (even though they are not huge “spoilers”), which I don´t want to tell in this review, since I believe that they´re best to leave for the viewer. Ridley does a great job of telling a story, where indeed the ordinary world can be quite horrifying, and it´s told through the boy called Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper), who´s “nearly nine years old” as he says in the film. Seth lives in the countryside of a small town somewhere in America in the late 1950s with his mother and father. His mother is strict and his father is a dreamer, who owns a little gas “station” in front of their house (the smell of gasoline is everywhere). Not far from their house lives the tormented and pale British widower Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan), who after the suicide from her husband has been dressed almost black, hiding from the sun. The story takes a turn when Seth´s brother, Cameron (Viggo Mortensen), comes back from the Pacific theater of WW2. In addition to this, the mysterious black car with young men occasionally appears, bringing things to the community that will change their lives forever.

Basically the film tells about the young boy, who is trying to understand the world of the adults and their actions. He sees that the world can be quite an evil place, people very strange, and that ordinary life can turn to something else in a matter of minutes. Love and hate are often very close with the lives of the adults, and this is at the same time very confusing and very interesting to the young Seth. Seth looks up for his older brother Cameron, but his brother is not the same man anymore after the bloody fighting in the Pacific. Seth has a lot of questions, but Cameron doesn´t have the answers. And in the end there are no real answers for the adults either, it´s just “Sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally”, without any real reason.

“The Reflecting Skin” is a beautiful film in many sense. Cinematographer Dick Pope does a great job throughout the film with his compositions and lighting, really supporting the story. The backbone of the imagery is the countryside, older houses and cornfields (or similar), and the slightly “yellowish” look during the hot summer days. That sun seems to be shining almost throughout the movie, and in the interior scenes the sunlight is lighting the rooms, creating shadows and atmosphere to the film. Time seems to be standing still, with the adults living in their old memories which still haunt them, but underneath the chances are coming. Soon the quiet times may be over. The images also focus on people a lot, with e.g. close-ups and editing, so the viewer will feel the characters in this film. When Seth and Cameron meet, you have some genuine love and happiness with the camera being quite far away in a wide shot, but when Cameron and his mother meet and the situation is awkward and hard for the both of them, the camera is very close, making the shot even more awkward. Just one example of how Ridley is creating the atmosphere. The music, by Nick Bicât, is very affective right from the start, and it´s hard to imagine the film without his stunning score. A good reminder how important a good film score can be.

The actors are also solid; all memorable. Jeremy Cooper plays the young boy perfectly, in a subtle way, but bringing the edge that is needed in many scenes. He plays a boy who has to grow too soon. Viggo Mortensen did some great performances during the 90s (as well as this film, e.g. “The Indian Runner (1991)” and “Carlito's Way (1993)”), so even before the “The Lord of the Rings”-trilogy he already proved that he is a very fine actor. The inner anger and at the same time the love that his character have are well portrayed by Mortensen. Lindsay Duncan is sensitive, yet mysterious, in her role, who in a way comes back to life after she falls in love with Viggo Mortensen´s character. The film has also fine supporting roles, like Sheriff Ticker and his deputy, and Joshua, the religious man. Quite frankly nobody in this film isn´t quite “normal” in the strongest sense of the word, but in the world of Philip Ridley they still feel very real and believable characters.


As far as I know, this is the first DVD-release of this film so far with English audio, and it comes all the way from Japan. “Imagica”-release has the 1.78:1 Anamorphic transfer, which is overall pleasant to watch. It has occasional softness, minor line shimmering, and black levels could be somewhat stronger, but these issues hardly ever bothered me during the film. The disc is “Single layer”, which is obviously always a bit alarming (4.38 gb vs. 7.95 gb). But, since the film is just over 95 minutes, the sound is 2.0, and in the extras there´s only a trailer, they don´t really take that much space, and I didn´t see any major compression artifacts. Image is also quite clean, which is always the back bone of any good transfer. Disc is R2 (NTSC), the film runs 95:19 minutes, and it has 12 chapters. Menu is in English.


English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround is the only audio track on this DVD. The surround-track is very good, opening up the powerful music in the rear speakers, which made many scenes more effective. Pure Mono-track probably would´ve made some scenes slightly more flat, at least when it comes to the scenes with music. Sound purists probably disagree, but this would´ve been even better with e.g. DTS. There are also optional Japanese subtitles.


Only extra on the disc is a Theatrical trailer in English (2:18 min). It´s probably taken from the tape-source, since the quality is lacking. You also have a mini Poster reproduction, which has some production notes and cast & crew info (in Japanese) on the other side. It goes without saying, that this film deserves a proper SE, with new interviews from the cast & crew, and maybe an audio commentary by Philip Ridley, but I´m quite happy just to see this film in the OAR and Anamorphic.


Do yourself a favour, and see this film now. It may be one of the best films that you´re going to see for a long time, and certainly quality British filmmaking. And Philip Ridley if you´re reading this: Make another film please?

This DVD is available at CDJapan.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:


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