The Skin I Live In (2011): Spoilers, Details & More
Roberto Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a renowned plastic surgeon, who lives with his daughter Norma (Blanca Suárez). She has psychological problems caused by the death of her mother, who had her body completely burned after a car accident and, seeing her image reflected in the window, committed suicide. Norma’s doctor thinks it’s time for her to try socializing with other people, so he encourages Roberto to take her out. The surgeon thinks his daughter has been raped and devises a plan to get revenge on the alleged rapist.
- Rating: R (Drug Use|Disturbing Violent Content|Strong Sexuality|Graphic Nudity|Language|Sexual Assault)
- Genre: Drama, Mystery & Thriller
- Original Language: Spanish (Spain)
- Director: Pedro Almodóvar
- Producer: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García
- Writer: Pedro Almodóvar, Agustín Almodóvar
- Release Date (Theaters): Oct 14, 2011 Limited
- Release Date (Streaming): Mar 6, 2012
- Box Office (Gross USA): $3.2M
- Runtime: 2h 0m
- Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
‘The Skin I Live In’ – recap
In Spain, as plastic surgeon Robert is giving a talk at the local university, where he explains he’s participated in three of the only nine face transplants in the whole world.
This means he has plenty of experience in the shaping and maintenance of muscles. On his way back home, he stops by the hospital to get an extra bag of blood by bribing an employee. What the other doctors don’t know is that Robert has actually been performing illegal experiments on a woman named Vera, who is stuck in a room at Robert’s secluded estate wearing a full-body suit all day long.
Her life isn’t exactly exciting, so she does her best to keep herself busy through various means like yoga, reading, and making creepy dolls using pieces of fabric that she tears off the dresses she doesn’t wear. Food is sent up to her through a dumbwaiter, and if she ever needs anything, she can use the communicator in the room to ask Marilia, the head servant.
When Robert gets home, he always puts the blood in the machines of his private lab first, then he goes to his room to check on Vera through the hidden camera. Once he’s sure everything is fine, Robert visits Vera, but one evening, he finds a very shocking surprise waiting for him: Vera knows where the camera is, so by facing the other way, she used pages from a book as blades.
When Robert finds her, Vera is covered with cuts, thus he immediately takes her to his private operating room to take care of her wounds. Tired of being a guinea pig in a cage, Vera says she wants to die, but Robert doesn’t believe her: if that had truly been her intention, her cuts would’ve been on another spot. Robert also realizes how soft her skin really is.
From then on, Robert begins running an experiment that includes animal blood this time. A few days later, the results are finally successful, and Robert becomes the sole inventor of an artificial skin resistant to burns and insect bites.
By using a mannequin that has been specifically shaped like Vera’s body, he prepares special patches of this synthetic skin to replace Vera’s natural one; now she won’t be able to get hurt again. A few days later, Robert officially presents the artificial skin at a medical symposium, claiming he’s been testing it on animals and that it can be immune to malaria.
The invention is named GAL after Robert’s dead wife, who died in a fire caused by a car crash. After he’s done, the organization’s president takes Robert to a private corner to ask how he managed to harden the skin in order to be immune to malaria, because that sounds like a mutation.
Being put on the spot, Robert has no choice but to admit he transferred genetic information from pigs’ cells into human ones, which is forbidden. No matter how miraculous it is though, the president can’t stand for this and orders Robert to abandon all his research.
Next, Robert has a chat with his old friend Fulgencio, who thinks Robert should go back to regular surgeries. When Robert returns home, he watches Vera on the screen for a while before visiting her to tell her she’s been “finished”; her body is perfect and needs no more improvements.
Vera thinks this should allow her to have a normal life now and tries to get frisky with Robert to convince him to grant her some freedom, but Robert only gets uncomfortable and rushes to leave the room, locking the door behind him. The next day, Marilia calls out Robert for this reaction of Vera’s, claiming this is a consequence of Robert having given her “that” face.
She thinks Vera’s dangerous and Robert should kill her, but Robert doesn’t take her seriously and orders her to fire all the other servants since they won’t need so many people in the house anymore. After Robert is gone for the day and all the servants leave the house, a man dressed as a tiger for the carnival rings the bell.
This is Zeca, Marilia’s estranged son, which he proves by showing his birthmark to the camera. Feeling nostalgic, Marilia comes out to at least say hi to him, but forbids him from entering the house because visitors aren’t allowed. However Zeca doesn’t listen and forces his way inside anyway. Marilia figures there’s no harm in staying in the kitchen and feeding her son while watching tv, but things quickly get sour.
The robbery of a jewelry store appears on the news and Marilia learns Zeca’s face was caught on camera, it turns out he only came here to hide and not because he missed his mother. The only reason why the cops didn’t find him so far is thanks to the costume that allowed him to go unnoticed in the carnival crowd.
Zeca also wants Robert to operate on his face and change his appearance, but Marilia refuses to help him and asks him to leave. Her worries are ignored and Zeca searches the kitchen for alcohol, only to get distracted when he finds the security cameras that show Vera.
Her face looks familiar and Zeca doesn’t understand how she can be here, prompting Marilia to get a gun she keeps hidden in the kitchen to threaten her own son into leaving before he learns too much. A gun isn’t enough to scare Zeca though, and soon he’s jumping on his mother to capture her and tie her to a chair.
Then, Zeca goes upstairs to look for Vera, only to find the door locked. This isn’t enough to make him give up, and Zeca immediately goes back to his mother to threaten her into telling him where the key is. As soon as Zeca opens the door, Vera kicks him in self-defense, struggling against his hold to try to escape.
Unfortunately, Zeca is much stronger than her and manages to overpower her as he wonders aloud how she’s alive after the fire. Desperate, Vera tries to bargain for her life, but Zeca doesn’t listen and takes her to bed to “re-live the old times”.
Downstairs, Marilia is starting to wonder if she’ll have to watch her son taking advantage of Vera for the rest of the night, but at that moment, Robert returns. As soon as he sees what’s happening on the security cameras, he retrieves his own gun and kills Zeca, although Marilia wishes he had killed Vera as well.
Moments later, while Robert gets rid of the body, Marilia tells Vera the secret story behind Zeca and Robert. It turns out they’re half-brothers, but Marilia never told anyone. She had Zeca with another servant that run away when he heard about her pregnancy, and she had Robert with her old boss, who took the baby and gave it to his wife because she was sterile, but they told everyone else she had given birth to him.
While legally Robert was their kid, Marilia still feels she did most of his raising. She also feels this is all her fault because her womb carries the gene of insanity and both kids got it. When Vera asks why Zeca thought he knew her, Marilia explains she looks like Gal, Robert’s late wife.
Zeca had grown up on the streets away from his mother, but some years ago, he showed up at the house asking for help. Marilia tried to hide him, but Gal found him and fell in love with him, which ended with Zeca and Gal running away together.
Unfortunately, they were in a car accident, from which Zeca escaped but Gal almost burned to death. Robert found her barely hanging on and brought her back to the house, where he hid all the mirrors so Gal wouldn’t be able to see her burned face.
That was when Robert’s research on face transplants started, but his efforts weren’t fast enough. One afternoon, Vera heard her daughter singing outside and slipped out of bed to approach the window, where she finally got to see her reflection again.
The shock of seeing a face that barely looked human was too much for her to bear and caused her to jump with a scream that echoed around the whole house. Her body fell in the garden in front of her daughter, who was traumatized by the experience and years later followed her mother’s example.
At that moment, Robert comes back from burying Zeca’s body and decides to finally accept Vera’s offer, allowing her to sleep in his bed that night. The two of them finally kiss, but Vera doesn’t want to go further yet because Zeca left her in pain, thus the new couple cuddles until they fall asleep. That night, Robert dreams of the dreadful events that happened six years ago.
He attended a wedding party with his daughter Norma, who was now a teenager under the effects of the medicine that allowed her to be social again after her breakdown related to her mother’s death. The party was in full swing when Robert suddenly noticed Norma was missing and went out to the garden to look for her.
After seeing a guy go away on a bike, Robert found Norma’s shoes and coat, following the trail of accessories until he found his daughter unconscious on the ground with her clothes all wrinkled up, a consequence of the bike rider taking advantage of her. As soon as she woke up, she saw Robert and started screaming because she thought he was her attacker.
Back to the present, Vera is dreaming of the same event. Vicente, a young man that worked with his mother in her dress shop, crashed the party and took some of the illegal substances other guests were sharing. Then, Vicente tried flirting with Norma, misunderstanding the kind of substances she was under while taking her to the garden.
Norma took off her coat and shoes simply because she found them annoying, but Vicente took it as a signal she was into him as well and dragged her under a tree to get frisky. At first, Norma didn’t mind, but when the wedding band started to play the song she was singing when her mother died, her PTSD was triggered and Norma began screaming.
Not willing to stop, Vicente covered her mouth but Norma bit him, causing Vicente to hit her and accidentally knocked her out. Panicking, he fixed her clothing in a rush and got out of there on his bike, unaware that Robert could see his license plate.
A few days later, while Vicente went out for a ride, Robert put on a costume and approached him with his van, hitting him to make him crash. Then, Robert shot Vicente with a sleeping dart and kidnapped him to keep him as a prisoner in an old garage on his estate.
It didn’t take Vicente long to start getting crazy down there, but Robert never spoke to him and only came by to shower him with a hose or bring water and rice. Vicente’s mom went to the police to beg for help, but the cops found the bike at the bottom of a cliff and assumed Vicente either died in the fall or left town.
Meanwhile, Robert kept visiting Norma at the mental hospital, but she was still afraid of him and hid in the wardrobe whenever he came by. Eventually, Norma ended up finding the same ending as her mother, a tragedy that pushed Robert from a regular doctor into a mad scientist. A few days after Norma’s funeral, Robert came home to shave Vicente and put him to sleep before taking him to his private operating room.
Fulgencio and two other surgeon friends of Robert’s came to help with the procedure, believing Robert’s fake papers that said this patient didn’t go to a clinic because he wanted confidentiality. The operation went well and hours later when Vicente woke up, he found out Robert subjected him to a vaginoplasty.
From then on, Vicente began living in the locked room inside the house, and he had to keep good care of his new groin by using toys that would keep the hole from closing until it scarred. Once that area healed, an obsessed Robert began putting Vicente through more and more procedures to transform his body into a woman’s, including giving him a full chest and a higher-pitched voice.
That was when Vicente began wearing the full-body suit, because Robert thought it could protect his skin and help him shape his new body. The first day in the room, Vicente hit Robert and tried to escape, but Robert had been ready for this: the front door was locked and he had the gun to threaten him into submission.
Finding himself cornered, Vicente tried to end things so Robert couldn’t hurt him anymore. Getting hurt in a doctor’s house was pointless though, and Robert just had to use some stitches to take care of the cut. A few weeks later, Vicente went through the last mayor procedure for a while: he was given Gal’s face, and Robert renamed him Vera.
In the early days, Vera tried to rebel by destroying the dresses in her room and ignoring the make-up and girly books Robert kept sending her way. She only kept an eyeliner that she would use to draw on the walls, that way she could keep track of the days and write down some thoughts as she struggled to cling to her true identity.
Her only source of entertainment back then was the tv, which allowed her to learn about yoga techniques and the making of creepy dolls. It was about this time that Robert brought his childhood maid Marilia to help him deal with Vena through a more feminine touch. Back in the present, now that Vera and Robert are together, Vera is allowed to wander around the house and live a normal life.
However Marilia doesn’t like her presence because she still thinks Vera isn’t trustworthy. Robert adores her and when he hears her promise she’ll never leave him behind, he allows her to go shopping in the city as long as she keeps Marilia as her chaperone.
Mere moments after the women leave, Fulgencio comes to visit Robert, insisting he shouldn’t quit his job yet or that he should at least rent his private clinic to his surgeon friends. Robert refuses, thus Fulgencio decides to take out the big guns: he shows his friend today’s newspaper, which has an article about missing people that includes Vicente’s picture.
Fulgencio remembers him from the operation and is starting to wonder if Robert lied to them, because he knows his experiments needed human genes, not just animal ones. Taking his gun out of his desk drawer, Robert tries to threaten Fulgencio into silence, but their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Vera, who tells Fulgencio she gave her full consent for every operation to get him to leave.
In the evening, Vera and Robert try to get frisky again, but Vera is still in pain after Zeca’s attacks so she’ll need the help of cream. Luckily for them, she bought some when she went shopping, but supposedly she forgot it in her bag which she left in Robert’s office.
When she goes to retrieve the bag, she also takes the chance to grab Robert’s gun and brings it back into the room to finally get her revenge. After admitting she’s been lying all along in order to gain access to her freedom, Vera shoots Robert, instantly killing him.
The shot is heard by Marilia, who comes to the room carrying her own gun, but Vera waits for her hiding under the bed and shoots her too as soon as she enters.
Now it’s all over, Vera steals some clothes and money before finally escaping the house. The next morning, she arrives at her mother’s shop, shocking her with details that only Vicente would know to prove her real identity.