Monday, May 12, 2014

Under the Skin

Would you be enticed by Scarlett Johansson even if you knew you were going to die? Would you be able to resist those sensual lips, even if you knew she was an alien who would destroy you? Would you be lured by the sight of her undressing, as are the marks in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin? Speaking of aliens, one of the most wonderful touches of the movie, which was adapted from a science fiction novel by Michael Faber, is that the Scottish residents of Glasgow, where the film was shot, all sound like them. It’s practically impossible to fathom the accents, as Johansson in her iconic van asks for directions around town. Besides the accents there is an almost surreal reality to the film, accentuated by the fact that Johansson apparently was set loose in uncontrolled environments. In one scene when she trips on a sidewalk and falls on her face, it’s reportedly the residents of Glasgow who came to her aid. This aleatory element only makes Under the Skin appear more like a performance piece or installation. Scarlett Johansson is definitely a drawing card for all the right and wrong reasons: she gives a bravura performance in which she succeeds in not anthropomorphizing her character and everyone wants to see her naked. But Under the Skin is the kind of film you could also see at the Whitney Biennele—say something done by an avant-gardist like Matthew Barney in his The Cremaster Cycle. Narcissism is an overused word, but the scenes in which men with erections drown in an alien miasma are a unique spin on the myth (and demonstrate that the specter of Scarlett Johansson’s body can be an alternative to Cialis). Glazer also redefines the meaning of the word inhumanity. When Johansson walks away from a crying infant whose parents have drowned, it’s not that she lacks empathy. It’s because her creation, at least at first, doesn’t admit such an emotion into her vocabulary. The final scene in which the creature “under the skin,” is set afire in the snow, as it attempts to escape, is the stuff of museums.

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