“Are you uncomfortable?”
Once a year, at least there will be a film that would challenge your perception of cinematic experience. A film that challenge the traditional conventions of films that you think you know. A film that not only contradictory (whether you love it or hate it), instead it’s more likely you ended up confuse and just couldn’t put your fingers on it. Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011) or Leos Carax Holy Motors (2012) come to mind as a prime example. FYI might contain spoilers.
Based of Michael Faber’s book of the same name, Under the Skin follows Scarlett Johansson as an extraterrestrial seductress who preys upon the single, lonely men of Scotland. She put a coat of cherry red lipstick, put on faux fur coat and pretty much everything else she stripped from someone dead girl’s body. In her nondescript white van she lurks in the streets of scotland. Through exchanges and conversations with an implicit promise of sex, she lures her victims after her careful selections and took them back to her ‘nest’. The ‘seductress’ traps these men by exploiting their lust and sexual appetites. But the story took a sudden turn as she begun to empathize to human fragility
The film unfolds like a surreal visceral experience. Through the eyes of the seductress, we casually slipped into her role of observer of humanity. She begun as the predator, feasting on the weak human. But later she transformed and become the victim instead. The role of the costume of the seductress is essential here. In her lair, she stripped to expose her strength and exert her role of the dominant. Yet outside even a layer of coat shows an intense level of vulnerability of her. There’s an obvious gender and sexual role in sociocultural environment as an undercurrent theme. But the film is not sensual, instead it felt rather clinical and detached. I believe the field of gender studies and semiotics would have an academic field day analyzing this film.
Johansson expanded her acting repertoire as the seductress. Under the black hair and beneath she remained casually detached in her role. Like looking at humanity through for the first time, we follows her carefully wandering eye, sometimes quietly revealing her surprise or interest, while her face remains casually devoid of emotion. Without any dialog Johansson relied on calculated gestures and movements. The film itself is an odd mix of documentarian style and contemporary art performance piece as it follows the seductress journey. Jonathan Glazer did a documentarian style of shooting for the conversations with random men, the dialogue are candid and non scripted, giving the film its essential naturalism. Landin successfully blends daily imagery interspersing with alienesque sequence, creating an estranged familiarity of the known and the unknown within the film. The score of the film is actually what immediately captures my attention and elevate the film. First timer british musician Mica Levi uses sounds to create an odd otherworldly score that is both hypnotic and succesfully built the suspense to the film from its first frame.
Under The Skin is definitely an obscure, esoteric film. I found myself mesmerized, simultaneously terrified, and yet fall in love under its peculiar allure. This is a film that would appeal scholars to dissect and understand. Do i understand the movie? Maybe not, i know i had a bunch of unanswered questions that still remains at the back of my brain even after a second screening. For me, at least, this film has been a sui generis experience.
UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
GENRE Drama, Science Fiction
DIRECTOR Jonathan Glazer | PRODUCER James Wilson, Nick Wechsler | WRITER Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer | MUSIC Mica Levi | CINEMATOGRAPHER Daniel Landin | EDITOR Paul Watts | STUDIO Film4, BFI | DISTRIBUTOR StudioCanal, A24 Films | COUNTRY United Kingdom, United States | RELEASE August 29, 2013 (Telluride Film Festival) | RUNNING TIME 108 minutes | RATING R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
STARRING Scarlett Johansson
DID YOU KNOW? The men lured into the van by Scarlett Johansson’s character were not actors. Jonathan Glazer had hidden cameras installed in the van and only informed the men afterwards that they were in a movie. Prior to the release of the film there’s some sort of incognito viral ad posted in craiglist. Very creative and perfectly in-keeping with the tone of the film don’t you think?
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