Review: Under the Skin

UnderTheSkin Based on Michael Faber’s novel of the same name, Under the Skin is a science fiction character study starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien “woman” who preys on men in Scotland. Directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast), the film is low on dialogue but heavy on imagery and message. Taking a unique view of what it is to be human and to understand the nuance of human interaction. This is accomplished via physical attraction through the eyes of an alien. When Scarlett Johansson acquires the clothing of a random semi-conscience woman she begins her explorative journey across Scotland to pick up single men. The film is one that never holds your hand and forces the viewer to glean more information than the average blockbuster science fiction movie does. Johansson’s unnamed character drives around random streets of Scotland doing her very best to attract men to come home with her. As you might guess this isn’t very difficult. The film plays to Johansson’s attractiveness in real life as well as her attractiveness in the film. Young men are willing to throw conscience to the wind for an opportunity with her. However, she doesn’t just choose any man, but rather ones who seemingly have no families. Numerous times she passes up men who mention they are headed home to their wives, family, or even roommates. Johansson is selective in her acquisitions. However, not until she meets a man who is very unique from all the others does she begin to see these men in a completely different light.

Transitioning from an automaton to a being of actual compassion begins to breakdown and ultimately destroy her world. She starts to try and understand and even conform to the norms of humans, but finds this to be an nearly improbable task. Even the most mundane of human activities give her pause. In the end, she is subjected to a moment of horror at the hands of a man and is destroyed because of it.

As I said earlier the film does its best to let the viewer draw a lot of his or her own conclusions. For me, there was no happenstance that the alien is a woman. Notions of attractiveness, agency, and violence were prominent messages throughout. Johansson’s attempts to pick up random Scottish men plays as a nice mirror image of what normal human interaction is, or is at least in western cultures. Men are generally seen as the aggressors or pursuers in these type of environments. Here, a woman has taken agency with the courting ritual and turned things on its head. Off putting to some men, but unsurprisingly they get with the program almost immediately. What she does with the men she seduces is strip them of their humanity. Much like some women have been known to feel after being treated as nothing more than a mere throw away object. The film works as a fascinating allegory for women’s treatment by men, and the devastating effects that those societal norms have created. An alien seeing men as nothing more than objects first and beings last is in a way the best way to describe the brutality towards women in the old world, and frankly the modern one as well.

The final sequence in the film is by far the most powerful. Johansson’s character reaches the end of her time on Earth at the hands of male brutality. She is separated from her true self (as others saw it), and is forced to bare everything to the world. A simplistic, yet beautiful moment of stellar film making in my opinion. Ending a story of a being that makes a full journey from emotionless to the truly compassionate. In the end, the film asks the most bold question: what matters more, who we present to the world or who we are underneath?

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