Under The Skin Digital
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From visionary director Jonathan Glazer (SEXY BEAST, BIRTH) comes a stunning career transformation, a masterpiece of existential science fiction that journeys to the heart of what it means to be human, extraterrestrial -- or something in between. A voluptuous woman of unknown origin (Scarlett Johansson) combs the highways in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again. Based on the novel by Michel Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White), UNDER THE SKIN examines human experience from the perspective of an unforgettable heroine who grows too comfortable in her borrowed skin, until she is abducted into humanity with devastating results.
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Scarlett Johansson's alien character, driving around Scotland in a van, is on a metaphorical birth-life-death journey as well. With each encounter, each stop, she acquires a human trait of increasing complexity, from shallow chit-chat and filling survival needs through group behavior, humor, pity, mercy, love, and fear.
Along the way she is shadowed by her patriarchal alien overseer who seeks to set boundaries on her development. The point at which he intervenes is telling, and the alien "She" ditches her van and overseer to learn more. In the process she shows more humanity than many of us can muster.
"Under the Skin" is beautifully crafted but difficult to watch. The opening "birth" sequence and scenes around Scotland are gorgeous, but there are several heart-rending scenes, and the demise of some characters is visually arresting. Those watching for prurient reasons or who are unwilling to put some thought into it will be disappointed. The pace is Kubrickian and, like "2001: A Space Odyssey", what little dialog there is is largely meaningless in terms of plot.
In the end, this movie challenges us to think about what is under our skin. Inside ourselves we will find predator and lover, vulnerability and callousness, patriarch and feminist, victor and victim. But in what proportions?
1. If you are looking for something fun and amusing to watch while munching on popcorn one evening with your family or friends, this may not be for you. The film is not for everyone, especially because of the content. The rating should tell you all you need to know, but be aware that there is no censorship here. Nudity - though quite tasteful and not vulgar - is definitely present. I can't exactly lump it together with drama/mystery and it didn't feel very much like horror either. It's one of those films that urges you to stay focused. Look away for a moment and you might get lost.
2. If you are searching for something on the non mainstream side, this may be it. When I say that, I mean that this entertains in its own unique way. The audience isn't spoon-fed. I'm not a movie buff by any means, so I can't make any fancy comparisons with classics or whatnot, but this piece definitely broke my personal record for "strangest movie I've seen in the past five years". Feeling thoughtful? Pondering the meaning of life? You might need to put on your thinking cap for this one.
The film does something I found wondrous and fascinating - it forced me to start theory-crafting right off the bat and pushed my imagination into overdrive. I was confused; I was baffled; I wanted - no, NEEDED - to know what the heck was going on, and though this "unknowing" frustrated me at first, I soon realized that I was watching something incredible.
Scarlett did an incredible job with this role. Some might say it wasn't very challenging because she spent a lot of time as an "expressionless" character. However, I disagree. She was "vacant" but not expressionless, and the way in which she brought the character to life piece by piece as she became more and more human really blew me away. The acting felt natural. All of the actors were splendid.
This film can definitely fall into the sci-fi category, but I did feel that it was very much about humanity and what it meant to truly be human (rather than aliens or spaceships and such). Empathy is key when relating a story, whether it's on screen like this or in print. From the very first moments that I watched the protagonist putting on clothes, driving around, and searching for lonely lost souls, I somehow empathized with her. She was supposed to be a villain (at least at first), yet I never saw her that way, and at the end, I was so frantic with the need to see her find her own "humanity" that I was biting my lip and digging my nails into my armchair.
I believe that that is what made this movie so incredible for me. It made me sit back and think about our world and how we don't appreciate the small things that make us "people". Eating, sharing stories and laughter, finding love and passion - these are things we often take for granted. On a personal level, this film moved me greatly. It's definitely one that I'm adding to my collection.
The ending scene was incredibly intense. Even as the logger was attacking her and I thought "he can't really rape her anyway", the horror was still present because the "rape" wasn't so much sexual as it was psychological. It was the shattering of hope, the kind of feelings and emotions that are gut-wrenching and terrifying. To struggle so much, to yearn for so much, and to finally find undeniable proof that the one thing we might want more than anything is unattainable...that is the true horror. Not the aliens, the devouring blackness, or death, but the theft and loss of our dreams.
This UK (more specifically Scottish) film was directed by Jonathan Glazer whose other feature film of note is the 2000 UK gangster movie, Sexy Beast. Not knowing quite what to expect, within the first two minutes I was reminded of the famous Monty Python Flying Circus sound bite used to introduce the next and completely unrelated sketch: “and now for something completely different . . .” Those who insist on an expository narrative should turn away and go elsewhere as they’ll be naught but thoroughly frustrated within the first fifteen minutes. It is best characterized as a cerebral, surrealist mystery drama with a sci-fi theme. It’s definitely not a sci-fi action thriller, or a horror movie with jump scares and a gore fest. One look at Rotten Tomatoes shows enormous numbers of critics, not just a few, “get it”, but significant numbers of the general public don’t. Those that do not are not ambivalent either. They tend to outright despise the film, using vitriolic language and repeated scatological expletives to voice extreme displeasure. The cause is undoubtedly because this film is unlike 99.99% of contemporary English-speaking Occidental cinema. It’s not a 3rd person expository narrative and has near zero dialog. Hence, also, the large number of one star reviews here.
This movie requires patience as it’s a slow burn, but in retrospect there’s a very valid reason.It also requires paying attention from start to finish, and remembering details about what’s already been observed that remains a puzzle piece that hasn’t fit into the final picture yet. There is very little dialog. The screenplay was inspired by Michel Faber’s 2000 novel with the same name, but anyone familiar with the novel will realize very quickly the movie is not an adaptation. It strips the novel down to its abstract core, using its main plot elements and theme while jettisoning narrative details. Those that have seen David Lynch’s surreal films will recognize the surrealist nature of this one immediately. It’s not symbolic though. What you see is what you get.
The narrative is linear. However, the pieces of information aren't necessarily delivered in an order in which they’re immediately useful. The movie starts out with what seems to be the genesis of something that results in someone attempting to make phonetic sounds and pronounce simple words, as if it’s a literate person who’s having to learn how to speak to express thoughts with a vocabulary they already possess. It ends with examining a human eye; IIRC, it has a green iris. Then we have a scene in which a motorcyclist (Jeremy McWilliams) retrieves a comatose woman hidden just off the side of a motorway and puts her into the back of a van where a naked Scarlett Johansson strips off the woman’s clothes and puts them on. She then drives off in the van, going to a shopping mall to buy more clothes and makeup. We get the impression she’s unfamiliar and inexperienced with this. It’s followed by her driving the van around Scotland, picking up young men by asking directions, or for other help, and offering them a ride, using her strikingly beautiful appearance to attract them. She’s seeking single men that live alone. Should be clear quickly that they wouldn’t be missed very soon if they disappeared.
Rather than give us a 3rd person objective narrative, Glazer and Walter Campbell, his co-writer, want us “under the skin” with Johansson, experiencing the world and its inhabitants subjectively in the 1st person, as she does. The first major clue we’re given is the movie’s title: “Under the Skin”. It’s the point of view we’re being given throughout: from under Johansson’s skin with her. This wasn’t immediately obvious to me at the start. I strongly suspected this at about the shopping mall scene. What the film portrayed made much more sense. This POV was quickly confirmed and then reinforced through to the end. A few scenes flip to 3rd person, but they’re obvious as we’re not with Johansson. Any time we’re with her, we’re in 1st person.
Going any further would introduce spoilers. The reveals are slow, but eventually there’s hardly any mystery left. The reality of what’s transpiring is simple and straightforward, but Glazer isn’t going to hit the audience over the head with it. What may seem confusing behaviors are very blatant clues about what this unnamed woman is. The one thing I will provide is this: step outside of being human as if you’re not (social needs, emotions, ego, id, libido, etc.) and contemplate wondering what being human would be like by observing and interacting with them. Then think about most of Johansson’s behavior when she’s out it public. She knows how to communicate well, but she’s a stranger in a very strange land that doesn't have any social or emotional responses, or empathy in common with anyone around her. She is serving a specific purpose and providing a service for the motorcyclist under his supervision (and there are a few more motorcyclists later). The big reveal, in which all the pieces should fall into place occurs in the denouement at the end, but it shouldn't come as a big surprise either. For me it was confirmation of what I was ready to bet the farm on, although the nature of it was unexpected. Glazer doesn't answer all the questions with the denouement, but it’s better if he doesn't, as we’re still under her skin in the last few seconds. It’s left for us to go from there in whatever direction we wish, but for Johansson's character, her story is finished, and that’s what this film is about, her story. Sometimes leaving the larger story open is much more powerful, and IMO that’s the case here. These things didn't come to me immediately at the end. I had to think about this film for a while.
Cross David Lynch with Stanley Kubrick (2001) and Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris) and add a little Rod Serling DNA. For those who are willing to take on a film that is much different from the mainstream, to paraphrase a few lines from "Kubo and the Two Strings" before pushing the play button:
If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. And please be warned, if you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what you see, even for an instant, then the story will surely elude you.
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1. Insert Blu Ray disc into your media player
2. Darken your viewing room as much as possible
Boring, disjointed, incohent, pointless.Read more