Movie Review - The Skin I Live In (2011)

by Emily


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https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1189073/

Country: Spain 

Language: Spanish (English subtitles available)

Type of story: Sci-Fi Forced Medical Transition

Sexuality: Doesn’t change

Nudity: Yes.

How I watched it: I rented it on Amazon Prime for $3.99. (Watch Here) Free on Tubi (Watch Here)

When I last watched it: December 28, 2023


How about a change of pace?  Up until now the movies I’ve reviewed have been comedies or romances. Pass the popcorn, and let’s do a horror flick! Introducing La piel que habito, (in English, The Skin I Live In.)


Content Warning - this is a review about a body horror movie. Depictions of forced transition, rape, murder, and suicide.


My synopsis (spoiler-free):


Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a very talented surgeon. He’s working on a synthetic skin that repels heat and bug bites. But he’s got a secret.  A woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), whom he is holding prisoner in his home.  He uses her for his research. The story splits into two storylines.  The present in which Robert is told to shut down his illegal research, and six years ago, when tragedy struck his family.


Wait, how is this TG? (spoilers)


Six years ago, Robert’s beautiful wife, Gal, was severely burned in a car accident. When she saw how disfigured she was, she committed suicide. Years later, Robert’s daughter, Norma, is raped by a young man at a party, Vicente (Jan Cornet).  In retaliation, Robert kidnaps Vicente, intent on torturing him. Norma commits suicide over the loss of her mother and the trauma of being raped. This pushes Robert over the brink of insanity and he starts to perform surgery on Vicente - bit by bit - until Vicente looks exactly like Robert’s late wife.  This is a body-horror movie as Vicente is forcibly transformed.


The transformation: Well, since this is a horror flick, it’s forced and terrifying. At first, Vicente is chained up and only given water. After weeks of this, Robert comes and shaves Vicente’s face, then chloroforms him. When Vicente wakes up, Robert informs him that his surgery was a success.  He was just given a vaginoplasty. Over time, Vicente has surgery after surgery, affecting every part of his body.  He is given a new face, new skin, new voice, and breasts.


Robert keeps Vicente locked in a large bedroom for five years. He uses cameras to keep an eye on him. Food and supplies are delivered via dumbwaiter. Vicente's only access to the outside world is whatever limited literature and TV stations Robert allows. The only other person who knows about Vicente is Robert’s mother and housekeeper, Marilia (Marisa Paredes).


Robert gives Vicente a new name - Vera.  He tries to get her to wear dresses and makeup, but she refuses to submit. Vera is drugged regularly to keep her compliant.  She stays sane by doing art and yoga. She keeps track of time by marking the walls of her room with lines and artwork. 


Even after Vera is fully transformed, Robert still uses her to experiment on.


Gender and Sexuality: Since Vicente has a forced transition into Vera, we can conclude he was never trans. His forced transition has led to a dysphoric nightmare.  He attempts to commit suicide at least twice. It can be assumed his sexuality never changed either. He is raped by Robert’s estranged brother Zeca (Roberto Álamo).  Vicente as Vera flirts, and finally has sex, with Robert, but that can be seen as a means to an escape.


How it ends: In the present Robert comes home to find his brother Zeca raping Vera, and kills him. Robert disposes of the body while Vera and Marilia burn the blood-soaked blankets.  Since the experiments are now over, Robert gives Vera freedom to walk the property provided she never leaves.  She agrees to this.


One of the doctors that performed the vaginoplasty on Vicente notices his name and photo in the newspaper listed under “Missing People.” He shows this to Robert. Robert claims Vicente was a willing patient, but his own patience is up and pulls out a gun and points it at the doctor.  Vera intercedes and tells the doctor she was willing to have the surgery. The doctor leaves, and Vera’s act earns Robert’s trust.


Later Vera and Robert are having sex.  She takes a break to get lube, but instead gets Robert’s gun, and kills both him and Marilia. She then escapes from Robert’s estate.


Vera returns home after being missing for six years and announces to her family that she’s really Vicente.


Random Notes:

  • Vera asks often if the work on her is done and if she can leave.

  • Robert is giving a presentation on his work, but his colleagues look uneasy with it. When they learn he’s using “transgenesis” he is told to stop his work.

  • Transgenesis is a real thing.  Defined as “Transgenesis is a mode of experimentation involving insertion of a foreign gene into the genome of an organism, followed by germ-line transmission of the gene and analysis of the resulting phenotype in the progeny. Transgenesis can be used to induce the expression of an exogenous gene of interest”  In this case, Robert is changing Vicente into Vera at the DNA level. Robert was using his late wife’s DNA.

  • Zeca forces his way into the Ledgard house because Marilia is his mother.  Marilia admits to Vera that she must have some bad genetics to birth such evil offspring.

  • Zeca recognizes Vera. But he recognizes her face as Robert’s late wife, Gal. He’s surprised because the last time he saw Gal, she was badly burned from a car accident.

  • Zeca rapes Vera thinking she’s Gal, whom he had been having an affair with. Vera cries out that it hurts, which baffles Zeca since Gal used to like it.

  • Personally, I would’ve preferred to see the entire movie from the point of view of Vicente/Vera as opposed to only flashbacks. The movie’s title is literally from Vicente’s POV. The current format is meant to evoke surprise and shock that Vicente/Vera is the same person.

  • At first, I read IMDB wrong and thought that Vicente and Vera were played by the same actress - which would’ve been cool.  Instead Cornet and Anaya practiced each other’s mannerisms, and at times lent each other’s voices to the character during various points in transition.

  • Prior to the Vicente and Norma rape scene, Vicente asks Norma if she has taken pills that night to get high, like he and the other young guests have done. She misunderstands his question, and lists the prescription drugs she is taking for her depression - Deprax (depression), Trankimazin (anxiety), Rohypnol (insomnia), and Lyrica (pain).  Vicente knows nothing about those drugs, and assumes they are all used to get high. 

  • My proofreader suggested that Robert should’ve transformed Vicente into a clone of his daughter, Norma, as penance of Vicente raping her.  Not Robert’s wife, who Vicente knows nothing about and who cheated on Robert. I like his idea better.


Overall impression: It’s creepy. It paints a realistic picture of a person who is being held captive, tortured, and forced to be feminized.  This isn’t a happy movie. It’s interesting though.  Worth the watch to see how they handle it.  It's also worth it to see Antonio Banderas as a creepy psycho surgeon.


Questions for my readers to ponder

  • Do you think Vicente ever fully accepts himself as Vera, or will he always be a disfigured Vicente? Do you think he will attempt to detransition?

  • Was Zeca’s involvement in the plot superfluous? Gal didn’t need to have an affair to get into a car accident. The reveal that he and Robert are brothers isn’t a shocking twist.


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Emily

Hi, I'm Emily and I'm writing Gender Transformation Fiction! This site is a place for me to keep all of my stories in one place. I'm also a software developer in the daytime, so this site will also be a proving ground of cool new features that pop into my head. Feel free to message me on Twitter or at my Discord Server! You can also find me on TGStorytime.com and FictionMania.tv.

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marter

Hey! It's that movie I recommended to you. I think Vincente fully accepts himself as Vera simply because I don't think cis people would understand the dysphoria he would go through. That's why they have it end on him wearing a dress from his mother's boutique. That's my interpretation at least
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Emily

I remember you recommending it. I put it in my list of movies to eventually watch. I finally got around to it. I like the interpretation of the symbolism of Vera wearing her mother's dress at the end.
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marter

I'm glad you did a review! The only other movie I can think of is Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde.
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marter

I would also like to say, I think it would have been interesting if the movie focused more on a Vera personality taking over as he is transformed. Identity death would make a good horror movie. It would tie in with the transgenesis. The movie could ask the viewer to consider what makes a person.

And if they wanted to end with the horror continuing, have Vera win and convince Robert to find someone else and bring back their daughter.
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Emily

That would've totally changed the movie - and I would've enjoyed that new take!
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marter

I've seen the movie only they one time, but it has stuck with me and I think about it occasionally.
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marter

Thank you!
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