Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN starring the alluring Scarlett Johansson skins the sci-fi alien movie genre to it’s barest bones. Rendering an alien’s experience of humanity in the shearing light of quiet examination and inexplicable sombre purpose.
White hovering shapes clinging to a sexual connotation, a donut yields to a lengthy projectile contacting and entering its center opening. Immediately focusing us on the aliens use of sexuality for it’s mysterious mission success. A symphony of audio opens the film with a female voice mimicking tones, until they evolve to words. An artistic mesh of sound and timing permeate the film creating an immersive alien perspective of our world.
An alien uses Johansson’s beauteous outer skin to attract men into her murder van. But before they can enter the sexual opportunity of a lifetime they must first answer a few sly questions, asked with the mesmerizing likability by the ScarJo alien.
“Are you alone, where are you going, are you meeting someone?” She smiles softly, charmingly. “Do you live alone?”
To be chosen, you must fit a criteria, the ScarJo sorts out the prerequisites quickly. There must be a protocol to not alarm the local authorities, this is a quiet invasion, happening on a much larger scale than immediately obvious.
Johansson’s face turns immediately emotionless when it becomes apparent certain men are not suitable candidates for her attention. Scarlett’s range is very limited for most of the film. Switching from happy, kind tones with sensual implications, which I found extremely alluring, suddenly to a dead pan gaze barely registering life.
It was because of her ability to be vacant that the director said he wanted Scarlett to do the role. Scarjo succeeds at it very well, and her kind, compassionate allure is well grounded and utterly believable. I would have been a willing victim, she hits all the right tones for desperate men to feel wanted. It must be one of the most effective alien invasion methods ever. You can feel the male population dwindling by the day.
Alien ScarJo’s mission is to attract single, lonely men to a location where they eagerly follow her across a deep black pool of liquid which she alone can walk to the other side of, while they sink deeper with each step, struggling to get to her as she tempts them by removing her clothes revealing the tantalizing skin. The plan is so simple, it effortlessly succeeds. So assured and solid is human nature’s need to procreate or that sex with Scarjo is so hypnotizing no man can break free from the possibility of it.
Suspended in a black viscous fluid until their bodies are drained of inner resources until their skin collapses or compresses upon itself. In a sense sucked dry, empty of bone, liquid and hope. One male victim watches another implode, realizing his fate, his inevitable ugly demise. It does add much needed gravity to the situation and the plight of the victims.
There is no glamour or glitzy guile from the camera and it’s perspective of Scarjo’s enthralling nudity. The simplicity speaks volumes. Alien Scarjo continues without hesitation to accumulate men with the help of an alien leather clad biker, who cleans up after her and glides over the local highways like a tiny rocket.
When the biker rocketeer meets up with others of his ilk. It becomes obvious there are more teams of beauty and the biker, sexually luring lonely men to a black lake of death in small deserted areas.
As alien Scarjo continues her journey and experiences with humanity, she becomes inquisitive then confused. The crowded human realm, its constant sensations begin to overwhelm her and is in stark contrast from the silent void the alien comes from. Her stolen skin seems to be forcing an evolution from her sterile, native concepts focused on seduction and murder to the titillations of human experience. The cold alien’s face opens to emotional examination and soon starts to lose control. She begins to adapt human characteristics, tapping her fingers to music, intrigued by the blood her hand oozes when cut by a thorn. Even trying to eat cake only to spit it out in repulsion. The alien seeks understanding about the sensations the living skin is pushing upon it.
She tempts a disfigured, wary man into her van and through a heartfelt seduction which is difficult to differentiate as guile, or the alien succumbing to sexual emotions and compassion. She lures him to her black pool of death and extraction. Only to then allow his escape, the man runs naked over the countryside. The alien has developed an empathy for her captured victims. Her silent biker partner picks up the runaway victim, without remorse captures him and stows him into the trunk of a car.
The premise is simple and there is little room for confusion as to motives or reasons for what is happening. Though I admit to a desire for a few more eerie clues, as to what is being extracted from the humans and why. No need for perfect revelations, just some connections to fuel more thought. Are the aliens creating fuel? Food? Breaking the molecular components down for repopulating their dying race? Or merely a farce played out on holiday.
Johansson’s blatant nudity is a pivotal plot point. It is portrayed without glamour or shame. It can be quite a shock when you realize that Johansson is exposing herself in such a way. I think she has usually been very restrained with sex scenes and nudity in her films, not so with UNDER THE SKIN. Standing naked, utterly revealed and feminine, the alien begins to relish and enjoy it’s humanity. Her skin, the human female flesh in it’s glory and sensuality has aroused the alien’s adoration and curiosity. Should I ask why ScarJo’s skin has a shaved venus mons? No, best to leave that cultural signpost aside to relish and admire.
Johansson examines herself naked before a full length mirror with appreciation, or careful examination of her disguise? After being helped by a local man to his home when he finds her riding a local bus confused and frightened. He is kind to her, sharing his mundane evening of television and a simple meal of beans.
The alien becomes forgetful of it’s origins, why? isn’t immediately obvious. When trying to eat a piece of cake, it immediatly spits the food out. Not human, can’t eat cake, the pink glowing outer skin isn’t it’s true origin. How the alien can forget this despite the intoxication of being inside Johansson’s naked skin, is a difficult concept to grasp, despite the obvious allure. Should an alien find another alien’s flesh so deliciously overwhelming? It leads one to think the aliens are capturing skins of human for a more sensual reason focused on their own senses.
So when the alien makes sexual gestures to her lonely host. He is eager to have sex with Johansson but it turns into an alarming frustration for both of them. He tries to enter her vagina and though not obvious he is unable to find her sexual opening. Even she is startled and scrambles to the end of the bed to use a lamp to cast a light between her legs and examine her missing cavity. Something is blocking his entry into her and she is reminded that beneath her skin, her true self alien still lives.
Her frustration leads her to the nearby woods. Her mission has failed and she is now being chased by a violent rapist through the woods. Why does she run? The rapist could not accomplish his desires. Ultimately he grapples with her, tearing at her clothes and flesh.
She stumbles away trying to hold onto her precious face, her disguise. Her skin has been ripped, revealing a hardened coal body underneath. Her alien nature is finally revealed and she removes her human pink flesh shell. Sitting in what seems like a submission to failure from a human perspective yet her biker companion never shows signs of confusion or weakness.
Starkly inhuman, silently, almost shamefully sitting on the damp soil, the alien resigns itself. Making no effort to protect itself or attack. While her biker partner is high capable and active, you know the alien race is able to react and become violent if needed. So is this passive behavior one of sorrow from the loss of her human flesh? Is there an addiction level? The human rapist returns, pours petrol over her and lights her on fire. Not a sound escapes her, silent as her body is without any demarcation of eyes or mouth.
UNDER THE SKIN is an examination of human loneliness, our desire for contact and sexuality. The aliens motives for collecting human bodies and extracting their elements leaving behind only the outer skin is a means to an end that is almost irrelevant from the greater issue. How can the human flesh make the most unique of aliens forget it’s own nature and succumb to desire and hungry to relish humanity. Does the human skin have drug like qualities? Are the aliens collecting the skins to use as a delicacy?
SKIN is a thought provoking film, deliberate and focused to deliver a powerful look at humanity, it’s depths of solitude and our need to be accepted. SKIN successful evokes shades of Kubrick and Lynch with it steady drone of macabre and altered states of visual quandaries. Of course Johansson’s fully nude body shots completely projects the emotionality of her physical humanity, though a disguise, our desire to see it without aberration is a powerful one.
Still a larger back story for the aliens, their motivations and perhaps some level of communication between beauty and biker to lend a greater scope to the aliens plight or motives would have added a heavier foundation for the lofty surreal visuals and audio to soar above and bring in a larger audience. Yet the reaction to art allows the viewer to become part of the work by projecting their own interpretation.
Audacious to see one of the most beautiful women in the world just before she turns 30, stand as a testimonial to feminine humanity too often hidden as a taboo. Johansson in her honesty, courage and glory turns this film into a fine performance piece. Under The Skin demands repeated viewings, since we will be enamored as much as the alien was, with Scarlett’s human flesh and it’s humanity that can also confuse humans as well as aliens.