There might never be a film more polarizing in recent times than Under The Skin.I’ll just start off with the fact that I found the film highly bizarre, profound in meaning, and extremely deliberate in its visual and auditory metaphors. Some call it a masterpiece, others found it too slow and jarring,thus losing its intended meaning in a sea of haunting confusion. Themes are explored through some very subtle hints, and admittedly, I did not fully grasp the plot in it’s entirety while watching it. The art form is unique, and what Jonathan Glazer has created is perhaps one which will haunt in more ways than one. It still haunts. It’s disturbing,and creeps under your skin because it points out the very flaws in the human condition.
Under My Skin is not easy to watch.No popcorns,no coke,nothing.Just like the film,it leaves bare it’s critique on society,through some very disturbing scenes. The movie is bascially about Laura(Scarlett Johansson) who is tasked to take the lives of men(presumably) and to do it cold-blooded, just like her inherent alien self. She replaces a former alien who has died probably because she has allowed herself to ‘feel’, symbolized by her teardrop. Laura then begins to witness the superficiality of humans in a make-up store, and attempts to use it as a tool to seduce men and lure them to their demise. She does this smoothly until she meets a man who is physically disfigured. This is where she starts to sympathize.An earlier scene showed a man whose job is to deliver roses,with blood on his hands from the constant prickling. Delibrate close-ups reveal a blank Laura, starting to connect with the world around her. The mood starts to shift when she lets the disfigured man go as she becomes more humane. However, she also becomes vulnerable and starts to become disoriented with herself. This culminates in the final scene where she tries to escape from a logger who tries to rape her.After seeing part of her skin tear off revealing a black alien(Laura), he burns her and the film cuts to black.
Watching Under My Skin leaves you dazed for a while,like how Scarlett Johansson has brilliantly portrayed a blank-faced Laura. The blank look serves as a juxtaposition to the horrible acts she commits,seemingly unperturbed by any guilt or emotion.Barely speaking at all, Scarlett Johansson delivers subtle gradation of emotion,charting her emotional progresssion. Glazer intended for the film to be metaphorical, and the use of haunting musical qualities and entrancing visuals can even be considered a theme by itself.Not merely a medium for illustration, these hyperbolic instruments are a reflection of our very obsession with physical beauty, a prominent theme in the film.One very disturbing scene shows a man’s (trapped by Laura) bodily flesh sucked out of him by some liquid,leaving only his face. Our superficiality is so great that when flesh is removed,no soul remains. No other film delivers this message so visually grotesque.
This is the part where Under The Skin doesn’t feel right,especially for its protagonist. Running alongside the theme of superficiality is that of power/dominance/control. Right from the outset,Laura is a predator who lures her prey. But she starts to feel more and in doing so, makes her more vulnerable as she forms emotional attachments to the humanity around her. The roles are subversed as the haunting tune which initially showed her trapping her victims, is ironically played when she is the one dominated by the logger. Her destruction at the end does not do the film justice. Glazer might have intended for his artistry to be a critique on society,but it is art that is confused. The end basically depicts what we have seen in the start,that aliens like Laura die because humans are too superficial, immediately destroying things unfamiliar to them; Only attracted to physical beauty.
I can’t help but feel that our protagonist deserved more. We’ve charted her emotional progression, but she ends up with no reprieve,no better end. And her end comes about because of the same negative superficial society the film has always depicted. Themes are not resolved, just left as it is but with a darker undertone. In the end, there are merits to be given for a bold attempt to disarm the viewers with brilliant imagery. However, it’s message feels distorted, never fully resolving the many issues it has so artfully raised.