Under the Skin is a British-American science fiction film, directed by Johnathan Glazer, starring Scarlett Johansson. I don’t actually recall ever seeing a trailer for this film. I honestly don’t even remember how I found out about it, but I just knew I really needed to watch it, especially when I heard what it was about. I’m not going to talk about every scene (although they all deserve to be spoke about) as I really think my words could not describe how much of an experience this film is, but I am going to talk about a few of them and the meanings I personally interpreted from it.
I absolutely adored this film. The cinematography, the score, the performances, and the message behind the film were so beautifully done, incredibly provocative and captivating. I don’t even know what words to say to do it justice, but I’m going to give it a try. So let’s start with what it’s about. As for the very basics, this film is about an alien, played by Scarlett Johansson, who is sent to earth to lure in men and kill them for reasons I’m still not really sure about, but that’s not really the point.
But before we get into that, let’s start with the cinematography. I mean firstly, this film is pure art. The opening scene is beautiful, visceral and intriguing as we see these empyrean shapes form an eye whist Scarlett’s character (who remains nameless so I’ll just call her Scarlett) sounds out words and seems to be practicing speaking English, or rather, learning to be human. It is a very captivating and wonderfully strange opening scene, and sets up the tone and feel for the rest of the film.
The rest of the film is equally as beautiful and visually pleasing but in an understated, muted kind of way. I found Scarlett’s performance extremely enchanting, and the few words she spoke I really wanted to pay attention to (her English accent was also very well done and charming) One of my favorite scenes was this shot of the sea, watching the mist blowing off from the sea and dancing in the wind, and the other shot of Scarlett’s body overlapping the forest.
But enough about how it looked. There are some things I found really interesting to note about the film surrounding the actors and how it was filmed. Scarlett travels around in a van in where she tries to pick up men and lure them back to her house. I found out afterwards that some of these men were not actors and were unaware that there were cameras and it was being filmed for a movie until afterwards. I found that really interesting, because what we were witnessing was actual Scottish men giving directions and talking to Scarlett. It made me think about the reverse, if a man was driving around in a van, asking women for directions late at night, how many women would come up and talk to them, let alone even get into the van with them.
What I really want to talk about is the meaning. I found this film extremely unsettling and haunting yet in a way, strangely touching at times. We get to see an alien perspective on the world, on human behavior and human attitudes and ideas, especially relating to how we act with other people and how we view them. Scarlett gets to see all the extremes of human nature, the vulnerability and insecurity of humans like the facially disfigured man she picks up who is timid and clearly quite lonely. She gets to see the cruelness of people, and how scary they can be, like when a group of guys attack her van and try to intimidate her.
She also gets to see the kindness of humans, when she trips over as she is walking she is clearly taken aback by the large group of people who try and help her up. Scarlett also takes notice of human behavior, and realizes all around her the superficial and importance that looks have in our society. She copies this and uses it to lure in men, buying new clothes, putting on makeup and pointing out her looks to the men she captures. I guess Scarlett starts to become human herself, or at least, starts to understand what it is to be human. And that’s when things go wrong for her.
Scarlett catches herself in a grimy mirror just after capturing a guy who has severe facial disfigurements. She also notices a fly, trapped and trying to get out of a window (as flies tend to do) and decides to let the man escape. Meanwhile, this strange and rather intimidating man on a motorcycle who we’ve seen throughout the film seems to know her every move, and goes to the man’s house and takes him off in a car boot, supposedly to finish what Scarlett should have finished.
Scarlett then escapes to a nearby town, and I guess, tries to be human. She tries to eat chocolate cake (which looked amazing by the way) but spits it out, and eventually wanders onto a bus where a passenger is concerned about her and takes her back to his house. He is very sweet to her, and together they explore Scotland, in turn Scarlett learns more about being a human and we see her watching a comedy show, tapping her hand to music, and looking at her naked body in a mirror. It seems like she is beginning to feel what it is like to be human.
But not everything stays this way for long. At the end of the day, Scarlett is not human. She is an alien, and this causes problems for her. Her and the man who has taken her in try to have sex but it doesn’t quite work and a confused and bewildered Scarlett flees into the forest where they had once walked together.
She meets a logger/lumberjack who tells her to be safe and watch her step. As she continues to walk on, she finds a hut kind of thing which walkers are allowed to use for a rest. She goes in and lies down, falling asleep. She is soon awoken by once again, the lumberjack who is now trying to rape her. She runs away and next we see one of the most disturbing scenes in the whole movie, where the guy ruthlessly tries to undress her as she struggles. He then recoils in horror as it appears some of her skin has actually came off, and runs away from her. We then see Scarlet peel of her whole skin, revealing what she truly looks like, her strange but beautiful midnight black and almost featureless alien-like skin (which I unfortunately couldn’t find a picture of, but I think it is quite beautiful.) Eventually the man comes back, throwing petrol/fuel over her and then setting her on fire where she then stumbles into the snow and burns to a crisp, her ashes floating, and almost dancing like the mist from the sea did earlier on, up into to the sky as snow falls down onto the camera.
I felt I had to describe the whole scene to you because this scene is really what made the whole film fall into place for me. As soon as the man see’s her true form, he recoils and is disgusted by her when only a few seconds ago he was so aroused by her appearance he felt he had the right to rape her. It relates back to early scenes in the department store where she notices people putting on makeup, the disfigured man who does his food shopping at night because of what people say to him, and the men that are so intrigued by her appearance they do not hesitate to get in a van with her and go to her seedy looking house. I kind of think the fact that Scarlett is driving around in a white van has a lot of significance. White vans, at least in England, have a questionable and rather suspicious reputation, and usually unfortunately remind me of shady men who try and kidnap or at the very least, cat call passing women.
The fact is, I don’t think I know one woman who would approach a van like the one she drives, especially late at night when they are alone, even if it was a woman driver. Yet the only man that was really hesitant to get in the van with Scarlett was the disfigured man, who eventually gets in anyway.
So what does this all mean? Well a lot of things really. I feel like the film is talking about a lot that I probably haven’t even picked on, but I love that about this film. It’s truly a work of art, aesthetically pleasing, thoughtful, eerie, strange, disturbing and even tragic at the end. This film allows us to see the world and humans through an aliens eyes, and exposes our superficial nature. At the start of the movie when Scarlett is undressing a dead girl, we see a tear roll down the dead girls face. Maybe this girl was also an alien, who failed her ‘mission’ with the motorcycle man because she started to become human. She started to feel. And that was the death of her, and also eventually the death of Scarlet. Earlier in the film when the motorcycle man looks at Scarlett from every angle, in an intimidatingly and serious manner, I think he was looking to see if she had started to become human. Looking to see if anything was rubbing off on her like perhaps it did the other aliens. And as we see, eventually it does. Scarlett goes from emotionless and heartless (like the ruthless scene on the beach,) to actually seeming to care about her actions and the people she meets.
Overall I thought this film was simply a masterpiece. A cinematic experience, heartbreaking and mournful, yet also captivating and a film that definitely deserves to be re-watched, thought about and analysed for years to come. And I think it will be. Overall for me this film beautifully showcases our unfortunate infatuation with looks, our sad reluctance to welcome new and strange things into the world and our unwillingness to accept people for what’s literally, under the skin.
PSYCHO CINDERELLA’S SCORE- 9/10
PS- you can buy this fantastic DVD here!