I consider myself a man that has been fairly desensitized by modern cinema and television, according to today’s standards. Sure, I avidly avoid the torture porn fandom of the Hostel, Saw and Human Centipede style films because frankly, I like sleeping at night. However, the typical rated R violence, nudity, and language can roll off my back pretty easily. That being said; Under the Skin is the current placeholder for one of the most upsetting scenes that I have ever seen, and will probably keep my stomach churning for the next 2-4 weeks.
Jonathan Glazer’s, pseudo sci-fi/social commentary movie has been a rather difficult film to track down. Not being completely up-to-date on the releases within the U.S I had to wait until non-cinema options were available to see this picture. However, once I got a hold of Under the Skin I was transfixed from start to finish.
The film portrays Scarlett Johansson as our female protagonist, who plays an alien prowling Scottish cities, neighborhoods and countrysides, luring men into her van, under the guise of a sexual encounter. The extra-terrestrial Johansson then leads these men back to an unassuming house wherein she tricks them into walking into a viscous liquid that then will eventually decompose their bodies, into what we as the audience assume is some form of sustenance for Johannson and her male extra-terrestrial guardian.
Glazer made a rather bold move by filming a lot of it with hidden cameras, and using real people, not actors, for many of the scenes. A decent portion of this film’s first act is Johansson roaming the city streets, asking for directions she doesn’t need in an attempt to trick men into her van. One of the more unsettling and fantastically acted moments is seeing Johansson’s character go from smiling and alluring to one man and then snapping back into a predatory state as soon as the interaction is complete.
For a while the repitition begins to wear on the viewer, after nearly 50 minutes of watching variations of the same pattern of hunting, seducing and harvesting, do we finally see a portion of character development in Johansson’s character. On yet another encounter with a man on the side of the road the audience meets Adam Pearson, a man who, in real life, suffers from a facially disfiguring neurofibromatosis. Pearson, age 27 at the time the film was shot, is introduced as he is on his way to go shopping late at night because his appearance is too much for most people to handle. Johansson’s alien, who views skin as a form of disguise, doesn’t comprehend that there would be a class system, or a reason to mock someone because of their appearance. Which came across to me as the stereotyping of ‘Oh, all you human’s look alike to me.”
What this encounter does for the alien is begin to open her mind to a different way of life, which then begins the gateway to experimentation with other human experiences.
This film stood out to me for a number of reasons, the first of which being that it showed men as kind, as well as vulnerable. Hollywood today has been holding fast to a strong trend of portraying men as brutal creatures who will rape at the drop of a hat. From movies like “Teeth,” to television shows like “Game of Thrones” men are getting a terrible stereotype in modern movies. What I personally appreciated about Glazer’s film, and especially with the integration of hidden camera footage, were the moments where men aren’t trying to get into Johansson’s pants, but are genuinely concerned for her well-being as a fellow (what they assume to be) human being.
One scene in particular, which went on to spawn a popular meme, we see Johannson fall down and several men passing by instantly come to her aid. While Under the Skin does, in certain scenes, portray a perceived male tendency towards rape and violence, it also shows the gentleness, kindness and chivalry of men as well.
As stated before, this film is now home to one of the most personally upsetting movie scenes to date. As a reviewer I have no plans to spoil this scene for those interested in watching it firsthand, however, the scene to which I refer, which involves a beach, a baby, and a ‘later that night’ type of scene, is meant to show the audience the uncaring nature of these aliens. It quickly shows us to what degree of importance they hold our species, which makes the audience that much more fearful of what the existence of these beings means for the human race.
Overall I found this movie to be very entertaining despite the odd pacing and repetitive first act. The score was fantastically eerie, to the point where you’re not sure if you’re listening to creepy music or an exra-terrestrial inner monologue. Johansson does a fantastic job of being an alluring creature that is also learning more and more about this new skin that she is in.
Going into this film I felt that the nerd in me was going to be disappointed, that this was going to be a dramatic version of “Third Rock From the Sun,” in which everything SciFi is implied and never shown. Under the Skin had an astoundingly good SciFi payoff, and made the nerd in me go “oh, wow.”
While this is not a film that I would own and re-watch multiple times, I do highly recommend seeing this movie at least once to find out exactly what is Under the Skin.