A closer look at… The Skeleton Twins

Note: Guides from our archive are in a slightly different format and have been edited here to make them more user-friendly.

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The Skeleton Twins is rated 15 for strong language, sex, sex references. The film is now available on DVD.

The Scoop

Twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) haven’t spoken in ten years. When Milo’s failed suicide attempt brings his sister to the hospital, the two are forced to resume their relationship. Once drawn close together by tragedy in their childhood, they have now taken very different paths.

Flamboyant failing actor Milo is horrified to discover that his sister now apparently lives in blissful, bland domesticity with her upbeat husband, Lance (Luke Wilson).  But under the surface, Maggie is struggling just as much as her brother. Her marriage is built on a crumbling foundation of lies, and her will to keep going is failing.

As the twins begin to reconnect, their blossoming mutual understanding is threatened by ghosts from the past: the parents who made them who they are, and Rich (Ty Burrell), the high school teacher whose relationship with Milo cast a shadow over all of their lives.

Dig Deeper

  • Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? Was it what you expected? How were your expectations shaped by the trailer, or by what you’d heard about the film beforehand?
  • What did you make of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s performances? What examples can you name of films which have tried to ‘recontextualise’ comic actors, and how successful were these attempts?
  • Do you agree that comic actors are more able to transition into drama than the other way around, and why might this be the case?
  • How, and how successfully, did The Skeleton Twins balance comedy with its darker, more dramatic elements? Did you find the darker moments of the film surprising or off-putting, and why, or why not? Which scenes did you find funniest?

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  • How did you respond to Maggie and Milo? Did you identify with one more than the other, and if so, why? In what ways are they similar, and in what ways do they differ?
  • How did you feel about Lance, and his marriage to Maggie? To what extent was Lance portrayed as a sympathetic character? Did you feel hopeful that the marriage could be mended after the credits rolled, and why or why not?

‘Why are we talking about such unpleasant things?’ – Judy

  • How does The Skeleton Twins explore the themes of depression and suicide? How are these issues often presented in popular culture, and can you think of any examples which are particularly insightful or helpful? How could we, as a culture, get better at talking about ‘unpleasant things’, and why might this be important?
  • What does the film have to say about the nature of sibling relationships? Does its focus on a sibling relationship make it essentially different from stories which focus on romance, and why or why not? What are some of the unique challenges and special qualities of sibling relationships?

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‘It was a mistake. I mean it. The whole thing.’ – Maggie

  • What motivates Maggie to have her affairs, and to lie to Lance about her birth control? To what extent are we encouraged to feel empathy for her actions, and how does the film show the consequences she incurs?

‘I know what happened was weird and illegal, but it really meant something to me.’ – Milo

  • How does the film present the past and present relationship between Milo and Rich? To what extent – if at all – are we encouraged to feel forgiveness for Rich, or to see his actions as a grey area? In your view, should the film have gone further in passing moral judgment on Rich, or did it get the balance right?
  • Do you think Maggie was right to intervene in Milo and Rich’s relationship, even though her actions had negative consequences for all of their lives? Was Milo right to intervene in Maggie’s marriage, and what do you think were his real motives for doing so? What happens when our attempts to do what’s best for a loved one are unwelcome – and how can we know whether we really have someone else’s best interests at heart?

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Maggie: I see you’re getting your sense of humour back.
Milo: Yeah, they can’t take that away from me.

  • What does the film have to say about the value of humour when it comes to facing life’s darkness? How can humour help to break down barriers in relationships?  How might it help us to find escape – or even to find hope and truth – in difficult circumstances?

‘The rest of us are just walking around trying not to be disappointed with the way that our lives turn out.’ – Maggie

  • To what extent is being disappointed or dissatisfied with life a universal human experience? Which factors in contemporary culture might exacerbate this experience? Is it necessary to ‘do something amazing’ in order to feel satisfied in life?  What is the best way to deal with dissatisfaction or disappointment?

‘I’m a sick person.’ – Maggie

  • How do Maggie and Milo try to hide their shortcomings and vulnerabilities, and how does owning up to their ‘sickness’ help them find healing? Is there something in human nature that makes us inclined towards self-destructive behaviour, and if so, what?  How might honesty – however painful – be the first step in breaking this cycle?

Published by

Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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