Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
What the hell did I just watch? That statement is probably what at least half of the people who watched this film said. You ever go to see a movie at a theater with people you love discussing films with and have the entire car ride home be silent because you don’t know what to say? Yeah, that probably happened a lot here.
Lets be honest, half the people that watch this movie are only watching it because they get to see Scarlett Johansson nude. And they probably still walked out of the movie disappointed. There is nothing glamorous about Scarlett’s naked body in this movie. Yes, it is definitely a nice body, don’t get me wrong. But it is not shown in a way that really paints it in a fascinating light. When you first see her actually naked in light, she is leading this poor guy to…something horrible. We don’t exactly know what that is, but we know it sucks.
Under the Skin is about this alien who falls to Earth, dons her look-alike’s clothes, and goes “hunting.” She doesn’t have a name but I think I heard her call herself Laura at one point. Laura rides around Glasgow in a creepy pedophile white van, looking to pick up random men to pretty much take back to her place and do some creepy alien shit with them.
Apparently, most of the conversations Johansson had with these strange men were unscripted and real; as they implemented hidden cameras to film these scenes. Let me just clarify that this movie is loads of messed up. They raise a lot of questions and don’t answer a single one of them. I want the people who bitched about Lost‘s ending and Damon Lindelof’s inability to answer all the questions to watch this movie. Then, they can go apologize. Who is this alien? Where is she from? Who the hell is the motorcycle guy? Why is she hunting these men? What is she doing with them? Is she killing them, harvesting their flesh for herself, or for her race? No one knows. And no one is going to know, and that is the whole beauty of this movie. You aren’t really watching a movie, you are enduring an experience.
You get to see from the early conversations just how strange this world could seem to an alien. Under the Skin does a wonderful job of placing us in Johansson’s skin for a little bit and visualizing what it would be like to drop down on Earth and be a complete stranger to everything. The culture, the weather, the dialects, the people, etc. And later on you feel when she is trying to grasp this world and be a little like us. But can she fully ever grasp what it is like to be human? She tries eating our cake and feeling the things humans feel, in order to feel just a little more human.
You will say “what the fuck?” constantly throughout this film. When you see the process by which she seduces these men to go back to her place and what she does with them; it is mindblowingly disturbing. This is labeled as a science fiction film, but it isn’t. They get to slap that label on it because it has to do with an alien. It feels like a documentary at times, and somehow a horror movie at other times. It is a strange experience, but it is one you won’t forget for a very long time.
You can try and answer all the questions if you want to, but it isn’t the point of the movie. Look at the “seduction” scenes for example. When they get back to her place, it is a dark void with nothing but black. Her place most likely doesn’t look like that, and they aren’t descending into a pool of inky black yuckiness. It is most likely symbolism for something completely different. They wanted to tell this story their way, and they did that. Those scenes and even the opening scene isn’t done in the conventional manner. There is almost zero dialogue in these scenes and we are just supposed to take it in and let it affect us.
That is what is brilliant about Under the Skin. Jonathan Glazer told us this story with little to no dialogue. The words that were spoken, you could hardly understand because of the thick accents. They didn’t want to spell it out for you. No one ever says she’s an alien, but you know it by watching the imagery. Everything she does has no reason behind it, but you can put two and two together and figure it out. This is brilliant and masterful storytelling at it’s finest.
Okay, I gotta mention Scarlett’s acting here. Yes, she is pretty much playing an expression-less robot here. But it is amazing work, especially with a lot of it being unscripted. She plays this alien without feelings almost to perfection. And its not only that, it is that we see her transformation from a stranger on this planet with no regard for human life or feelings of any kind, to someone who can feel and fear. This is represented best in the movie in one scene. All I have to say is that she has no regard for this tragic event that is going on around her and she doesn’t care. But that baby all alone on that beach is a moment you will not forget. But then you see her later and you actually feel for this alien character. Not because you like her or even understand her, but because you have literally experienced what she has. That is what is so good about this film. You feel like you are an alien experiencing what she is. You see the amazing shots of Scotland, but you also can just feel the bitterness and cold when the windy scenes pick up. This is true art. When someone comes at you wanting to talk about artistic expression in modern filmmaking, this is it. This is pure art. Nothing is done the conventional way. This film is different, plain and simple. But that is what makes it so damn good.
Even Jeremy McWilliams did a damn good job. Yeah, he’s the guy that played the guy on the motorcycle. I don’t think he said one word the entire movie. Who is he really? No one knows. Is he her boss? Her handler? Her clean-up guy? All I know is that he somehow knows what she’s up to and where she is getting her victims. When he chases down the one guy was chilling. Even more so was when he was inches from Scarlett’s face and you could just feel his stone cold Terminator-esque vibe. Like, he knows that she is starting to feel a little human and wants her to know that he knows. It is creepy and chilling and completely mysterious and open to interpretation because you get literally zero information about him.
The shots in this movie are breathtaking. You can go from loving the landscape of Glasgow and all of its’ highways to hating it. It can go from beautiful to bitter just that quick. And the soundtrack to this movie is something else entirely. It will stick with you for hours after watching this movie. It doesn’t have a science fiction score. It has an eerie score. It is haunting, yet feels like it could fit in a horror movie. It has ambient sounds mixed with just disturbing noises. It is fantastic. It will make you feel uneasy and that is the point. Just listen to the music as she leads these men into her apartment. Chills.
If I have to have one gripe with the movie, it happens at the very end of the movie. And spoiler alert (kind of) here, but you find out exactly what is under Scarlett’s skin. She shed the human skin and you see the full alien. The bad CGI kind of took away from the element a little bit. I hated it when they showed the alien in Super 8 as well. Sometimes, less is just more. But it is a nit-picky gripe, if anything.
Under the Skin is brutal at times, yet beautiful most of the time. It is unsettling and will make you feel uneasy, but you can’t deny its’ beauty and brilliance, especially when it comes to the masterful filmmaking done here by Jonathan Glazer. It is mezmerising and completely different from anything you’ve ever seen. You don’t know what exactly it is that have watched, but you know you’ve definitely watched something. Scarlett Johansson plays Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and in Under the Skin, she IS a black widow. This film will have many viewers divided. It is one of the best films I’ve seen this year for sure. You may or may not like it, but one thing is for certain. Good or bad, this movie really will get under your skin. And it won’t leave there for a long time.
Scarlett Johansson as Laura(??)
Jeremy McWilliams as Motorcycle Guy
WHAT I LIKED:
+: Scarlett Johansson’s acting. Playing a emotionless alien can be tough work. Everything has to be done in facial expressions and reactions. She is really starting to show everyone just how good of an actress she can be. No feelings or emotions to being completely vulnerable is a tough task. But one she was more than up for.
+: The direction. The shots, the score, the imagery/symbolism, the beautiful yet bitter cinematography. The amazing way they tell a story, without really saying anything. Truly one of a kind and unique.
+: That creepy soundtrack. It is chilling and unsettling. And it makes the weird scenes so much more disturbing. Yes, that is a good thing.
+: Raising so many questions and not answering a single one of them.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
-: The reveal at the end of what was “under the skin” didn’t need to be done. Sometimes, less is more.