This post includes an explanation about the ending of the 2011 film “The Skin I Live In”.
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Live In / La piel que habito (2011) is a psychological thriller starring Antonio Banderas as Robert Ledgard and Elena Anaya as Vera. Beware of spoilers.
The film is based on a novel named Tarantula written by Thierry Jonquet. Today’s opinions are solely based on the film, not the novel.
“The Skin I Live” tells the story of a plastic surgeon (Robert Ledgard) who is holding a young woman captive (Vera) in his house. Robert has been using her as his “guinea pig” to test his latest creation, an artificial skin resistant to damage.
Plot Twist: Vera is actually Vicente, the young man who Robert believes raped his daughter (Norma) many years ago. As a form of punishment, Robert performed a vaginoplasty on Vicente and renamed him Vera.
The Ending of “The Skin I Live In” Explained
The ending of “The Skin I Live In” shows that unlike Robert, Vera never developed romantic feelings for her kidnapper. She understood Robert’s obsession for his late wife and used it as an opportunity to escape. In the end, Vera kills Robert and returns to her mother.
The protagonists of “The Skin I Live In” (Robert and Vera/Vicente) share a very complex relationship dynamic. Robert hates Vicente but won’t let him die. As a result, the plastic surgeon resorts to all kinds of torture to punish his prisoner, including changing his sex and ultimately, his gender too.
On the other hand, Vicente fears Robert but has to seduce him in order to escape. Although, Vicente starts as a heterosexual man in the story, he eventually assumes another identity. As Vera, she lures Robert with her new found “female charms”. When opportunity strikes, she does not hesitate and kills him.
Robert and Gal’s relationship
On the surface, Robert seems to be a doting husband. The man cared for his wife until her death, despite of knowing that she cheated on him and tried to run away with a guy she just met. However, is that really true though?
Not to put the blame on Robert, but was Gal that miserable in her marriage? What drove her to fall head over heels for a complete stranger? And on top of that, what made her run away from everything? Because if this woman did it all on a whim, that kind of makes her look like an airhead.
Before writing Gal off as an ungrateful wife, here is another angle to the whole situation. What if Gal felt suffocated by her husband’s blind devotion to her? This is just a personal theory but… could it be that Robert’s obsessive love for Gal made her feel trapped? That would somehow explain why she wanted to get away from it with all.
I mean, who would ever run away with Zeca unless they were really desperate? Jokes aside, this is just pure speculation as the film never fully explains why Gal did what she did. However, this angle shines Gal in a better light. From this perspective she is a victim, instead of the silly woman who traded her perfect husband for a low-life that the film paints her to be.
Robert’s obsession for his late wife is unshakable. Even after Gal’s tragic death, he never ceased “loving” her. As a matter of fact, he tried to bring her “back” through Vicente. It’s no coincidence that the plastic surgeon transformed his “prisoner” into a physical replica of Gal.
Robert and Vera’s relationship
The feelings that Robert develops for Vera are superficial, his heart always belonged to Gal. What about Vera? Was she ever in love with Robert? The answer is a pretty straightforward “no”. Vera is a survivor, she’ll do anything to survive even if that entails seducing her kidnapper and torturer.
Gaining Robert’s affection was Vera’s last chance to get out of the “cage”. She cannot beat Robert by force, neither can she end her life as Robert won’t allow it. Being in a “relationship” with her kidnapper gives her, in a certain way, more freedom.
Opportunity arrives for Vera when she finds Robert’s gun and shoots him dead with it. The tears that Vera shed in that scene mark the end of a twisted cycle of torture and pain. Given that Robert would never let Vera go, killing him was the only for her to escape the whole nightmare.
A discussion about consent in “The Skin I Live In”
Let’s discuss now, one the most pivotal scenes in the film: Norma’s rape scene. This question might sound confusing, but did it really happen? You see, from Norma’s point of view it did. However, from Vicente’s point of view it didn’t.
Here is the thing, a girl like Norma cannot give consent. Why? Because she is not mentally stable. Well, Norma didn’t push Vicente away when he was kissing her, does that mean she liked him? At that time, the girl didn’t see him as a threat to her safety.
As mentioned before, Norma’s mental health plays a important part in her interpretation of the events. First of all, this girl had a troubled childhood. She witnessed her mother taking her own life right in front of her. After the traumatic incident, the doctors diagnosed Norma with psychosis and put her on heavy medication.
Needless to say, Norma is not your regular girl, someone who can stand up for herself in difficult situations. Although, it’s not Vicente’s fault for not knowing about her traumatic past, he could’ve backed off when she started to push him away. Vicente messed up when he failed to read how uncomfortable Norma was to his sexual advances.
Now, let’s hear Vicente’s side of the events. According to him, he didn’t sexually assault Norma. Apparently. the young man was too “high” to perform the act. Okay, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, he shouldn’t have pursued Norma in such a sexually aggressive manner.
As a young man, Vicente has the right to feel lust towards someone he deems attractive, but he should’ve been more mindful about the whole situation.
To put it simply, if Vicente wasn’t under the influence that night, he could’ve easily known that something was off about Norma. The girl wasn’t taking her clothes and shoes off because she is coming on to Vicente. Norma was feeling hot because of her medication.
So what’s the final verdict? Did the rape happen or not? Probably it didn’t happen because Norma started screaming and biting. The girl woke up believing that she was raped by the man in front of her. However, Vicente was wrong for hitting her and not properly reading her body language.
Pedro Almodóvar does it again. He is definitely a director that never disappoints and “The Skin I Live In” proves his calibre as an amazing storyteller. The film is an experience itself that will stir up all sort of emotions in its viewers. Also, “The Skin I Live In” has a haunting story that the audience will never forget.
Personally, I believe that “The Skin I Live In” is a bit darker than Pedro Almodóvar’s previous works. It’s not the first time, that the director picks up difficult subjects as a background theme for his films. However, “The Skin I Live In” is the first one adventuring in the psychological thriller genre.
Is “The Skin I Live In” a disturbing film? I would say “yes”. However, the disturbing aspect of the film doesn’t come from gory scenes, as a matter of that, there is none of that. The horror in “The Skin I Live in” is entirely psychological.
As the story unravels, the audience learns that “the mad scientist” and his “guinea pig” are not as bad or as innocent as they appear to be.
Let’s start with Robert, is he the bad guy in this story? In my opinion, no. Robert is no saint, but he is also not a bad man. The plastic surgeon was the one who saved Gal after she ran away with her lover. Not only that, but Robert also took care of his wife after the accident and never stopped looking for a way to “fix” her, hence his obsession with skin.
Even when Robert kidnapped Vicente, he was always “cordial” during his interactions with him. As I see it, Robert Ledgard is just a man who has been through a lot. The plastic surgeon lost his wife and daughter in less than a decade. That alone is enough to incite a lot anger in someone.
What about Vicente? Is he a real victim in this story? Robert put Vicente through hell during all the years he hold him captive. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Vicente did not come unscathed from the whole experience, quite the opposite. However, the young man did ruin Norma’s life after that fateful night.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether Vicente meant what he did, because a young woman is dead because if him. Yes, Norma had her own problems but if Vicente was lucid that night, he could’ve taken better decisions.
Last but not least, the performances were all top-notch, especially from its leads: Antonio Banderas as Robert and Elena Anaya as Vera. Another great aspect about “The Skin I Live In” is that the film doesn’t really pick sides. Robert starts as a monster but in the end, the audience will be able to sympathize with his pain. Also, Vicente is not as innocent as he wanted us to believe.