This review contains some spoilers to expose themes within the film.
This is a controversial film, not because of the subject matter or content, but because it has a polarizing effect on audiences. One group finds this a humdrum, no-point film while conflicting and opposing groups find Under the Skin a visionary and thought-provoking experience. I, am in this latter group. I believe that there are multiple layers of this film that need to be peeled back and exposed to reveal the true nature of what it means to be human from an outside perspective.
As you probably already know, Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who seduces men in her attractive human form. We all know Johansson is attractive, but Under the Skin strips away what usually makes her beautiful by taking away her tan and golden hair and replacing it with white as snow skin and short black, styleless hair. Yet, she remains seductive in her natural female form, luring these horny and lonely men into the black abyss.
The black abyss is hard to explain. When the huntress and her prey enter this realm, it is as if they are walking on black water. These victims think they are about to seal the deal, but instead they sink into black liquid nothingness. Their insides are snatched out, leaving only skin behind to float in the black jelly. The skin to perhaps be used by future invading aliens, in my opinion. These visuals are quite extraordinary, reminding me of the French film, Enter the Void – the trippiest of trippy mind-fucks.
This cat and mouse game fully encompasses the film. The rest of the time the movie shows ScarJo walking around the streets of Scotland, luring men, and observing humanity. This is where the first group (those who don’t like the film) lose interest. There is no momentous plot point in the film that make you think, “Ah-hah”. The truth and point of this film is not fully realized until the movie is completely over. Some may be mad by the abrupt ending, feeling left in the dark as to the meaning of the film. But it is only after much thought and debate does the truth reveal itself.
The truth is revealed through the everyday mundane. This is why the same kind of scenes (Johansson seducing men) is shown over and over again with only minor changes each time. This female is devoid of emotion and empathy, only leading her life on Earth with a dark drive and desire to kill. She is a serial killer as well as an alien; in this film, there is not much of a difference between the two. Her actions are ‘alien’ to us and hard to understand. And then, somehow slowly and suddenly all at the same time, the theme of humanization slowly surfaces. It starts after a minor incident of being helped up when she falls in the street. Seeing human kindness sparks something within her. Something clicks. And that’s when she starts changing, wanting to experience human emotions and partaking in human pleasures. But it doesn’t stop there. Where there is good, there is evil. And the predator becomes the prey.
Good vs. Evil is a centuries old debate, yet films like Under the Skin discover new ways to bring this philosophical argument back to life. There is no clear cut line between good and evil; no one is wholly good nor wholly bad. There are shades of grey and blurred lines continually crossed. Even though the story isn’t entirely straight-forward, it is clear that filmmaker, Jonathan Glazer, is making a statement. Even in this alien creature, there is a good side and a bad. The fact that we go from disliking this vile alien to sympathizing with her is a great feat in any film.
I love art house films like this – films that spur controversy and debate, films that make you think. Under the Skin doesn’t make you feel one extreme emotion over another. It’s just about drinking in the visuals. The dialogue doesn’t matter. That’s not the point. The music and visuals carry the film. This is the film that Only God Forgives wishes it could be. The captivating music, with its high-pitched violins and low bass and heavy heartbeat, sucks you into this world – this world that we know so intimately, but never sit still to take a closer look at. Because we know that if we do, we may not like what we see.
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