One of the oldest debates in philosophy is the mind-body problem. Specifically, are we merely our bodies, with our identity innately tied our physical form? Or are our bodies another part of some greater whole? In the current zeitgeist the right-wing moral panic  has unfortunately revived this debate in regards to transgender individuals, albeit in a far more malicious manner. In Skin Deep (original title Aus Meiner Haut), Alex Schaad dives into this concept and explores the idea that maybe we are more than our bodies, and that maybe our physical forms are simply just another quality of us as a person.

            Skin Deep is the story of Leyla and Tristan, a seemingly happy couple who take an island vacation together. This vacation, however, is a little more than an average trip to the beach. At the resort, the couple is invited to swap bodies with other vacationers, and soon they find themselves immersed in something far more than they bargained for as their relationship and senses of self are tested in some rather unorthodox ways.

            Schaad uses this vaguely Cronenbergian concept to dissect human sexuality, gender, and identity, and does so in a manner that instead of coming off as overly intellectually and intimidating is quite poignant and relatable. The result is an unconventional but deeply moving love story that sneaks in a few interesting thought exercises:  is it cheating to have sex with your partner’s body if it’s inhabited by the body of another? Is a man who identifies as heterosexual considered homosexual if he has sex with the body of another man that’s inhabited by his girlfriend’s mind? Schaad has an ability to take these complicated concepts and break them down into digestible thought experiments that will linger with the viewer long after the film is over. And while it’s absolutely a queer love story, I think Schaad’s intention ultimately is to transcend any notion whatsoever of gender specific preference and identity and instead focus on the persevering nature of the love two people have for one another regardless of the bodies they have or the gender they identify with.

        This is a film that asks much of the audience. Not in understanding it’s plot per se but in how the audience perceives human nature. It is not a hard film to understand but a delightfully simple one, and that is the true beauty of Schaad’s direction: difficult questions are easily digested when wrapped in a film as gorgeous as this one, and the result is an exercise not just in understanding the various facets of the human condition but gaining an empathy for facets that differ from our own.