With its complicated plot, multiple unreliable narrators, and subtle interplay between fantasy and reality, Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin doesn't seem like an easy candidate for cinematic adaptation. But alt-pop auteur Gregg Araki has fashioned the novel into a mournful, lyrical rumination an lost innocence, abandoning only a few nuances along the way. Continuing to erase memories of his embarrassing sitcom past, Joseph Gordon-Levitt completely inhabits the role of Neil McCormick, a gay hustler forever haunted by the purity of his childhood relationship with a handsome baseball coach. Brady Corbet proves equally compelling as Brian Lackey, a UFO-obsessed college student with very different memories of his Little League days. The facts lie somewhere between Neil's hard-nosed cynicism and Brian's damaged flights of fancy. But Araki is more interested in the emotional truth of these boys' experiences -- the way their individual coping mechanisms protect them from a shared past even while endangering their divergent futures. The director's previous films revelled in an overstuffed visual aesthetic, but here, with the help of cinematographer Steve Gainer, he fashions an entire world of forlorn childhood nostalgia and haunted suburban spaces. Araki's casting, impeccable as ever, allows talents as disparate as Elisabeth Shue, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Michelle Trachtenberg to contribute to his remarkably consistent vision. Audiences put off by the bratty pop excess of Araki's earlier films may not recognize the mature filmmaker of Mysterious Skin. But fans will have glimpsed this film's heartbreak before, beneath the candy-colored surfaces of Nowhere and The Doom Generation.