Under the Skin
Written by Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Based on the novel by Michel Faber
Starring Scarlett Johansson
1 hour 48 minutes
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Available on Amazon Prime Instant Video
It’s hard to find a place to start with a movie like Under the Skin. There are layers upon layers of meaning, the narrative is bursting with social and philosophical commentary, and there are hidden visual treasures throughout. So I’m going to start at the most important place for a movie–its surface, or its epidermis in this case.
A movie must first be entertaining before it can be anything else. If the audience loses interest in the characters or the plot, it doesn’t matter what profound, life-changing messages may be there to find. They’ll be utterly wasted if the story doesn’t connect.
This movie has beautiful skin. It’s sexy and rich and fresh. And pretty damn weird, but in the best way possible. I guarantee you’ll see some things in this movie that will stick with you for a long time, and no I don’t mean ScarJo’s tatas .
The opening sequence sets the tone. I won’t even try to describe it but it’s incredibly bizarre and jarringly abstract. For a moment in the first minutes I thought this movie was going to be as unabashedly vague and masturbatory as Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, which wouldn’t have been a problem. I kinda like vague, masturbatory movies.
Anyway, it didn’t turn out anything like that. The plot, though paced pretty slow, is riveting. It’s also a lot less abstract than I expected it to be. Its also very simple–a sexy, other-worldly creature lurks around Scotland luring horny men into her incredibly unusual nest/trap that tramples all over the laws of physics. Again, I won’t try to describe. All I can say is that it manages to be superlatively erotic and disturbing at the same time. In some ways it reminded me of Ingmar Bergman’s best films, unworldly and thick with obscured emotion.
And yet the movie is incredibly relatable. Its exploration of lust, loneliness, acceptance, and beauty delves into the truth of the human psyche. Even though the character is not human, her actions and her desires create a deep empathy. We have felt everything she is feeling, only she’s feeling it for the first time. This amplifies the bond between audience and character. It is the story of the inhuman becoming truly human, not biologically but spiritually.
I am reminded of one of my favorite books, The Idea of the Holy, by Rudolf Otto in which he describes the experience with the holy as being “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self”. It is the experience of something completely Other. Watching Under the Skin I couldn’t help but feel this concept at work. Not only does the main character encounter the Otherness of humanity–the power of the holy–but as a viewer I felt that I was allowed an encounter with an entirely Other movie. It’s hard these days to find a movie that is one of a kind. I promise, this one is.