Under the Skin

You're not from here? Where are you from?

You’re not from here? Where are you from?

Sooo… yeah. Under the Skin. This… this was weird. When I saw that this had made the list, my initial impressions of the film (without having seen it) caused me to not be all that surprised at its addition; it was supposed to be one hell of a unique experience, so I went into the film trying to expect the unexpected. What I got was…. well, unexpected. After it was over (and, truth be told, a good while during my watch as well), I tried to figure out how I felt about this film, what it’s worth was, and whether or not it deserved its newly acquired spot on the list. This attempt to figure things out extended quite a bit after the film was over, and I still had yet to come up with anything substantial. Jonathan Glazer’s film is so unassuming, so stark, so without any faceting that it’s hard to form any real opinion on it, unless you end up forcing it. Think of Under the Skin like a glass of pure, distilled water after you put it in the microwave; there’s nothing in the water, no grains or imperfections, to spark the boiling process (i.e. forming an opinion), so it just stays flat and unresponsive; unless you force it by, say, throwing a spoon into the glass and causing it to erupt all at once, thereby getting the reaction that you wanted out of it.

Scarlett Johansson stars as an unnamed alien, taking the form of an Earth woman in order to pick up men, upon which she lures them into her ‘home’ where they are submerged in an inky black liquid void for unexplained reasons. The bulk of the film pretty much follows Johansson as she drives around Scotland, looking for targets, while also occasionally experiencing the various things that human beings experience, both good and bad. I don’t want to over-play the film, because this is very much a minimalist film in every way; it is far more concerned with how it looks and how it feels and comes across than it is with actual things happening. Even with that said, that can be a good thing, and visually, there’s a lot to appreciate with Under the Skin; it is extremely artistic, in just about every way that word can be taken, depending on your personal inclinations. For instance, there’s a scene about two-thirds of the way in of Johansson taking a bite of chocolate cake, which opts to make the action of cutting a piece with her fork and bringing it up into her mouth agonizingly slow. For some, this will be pretentious to the umpteenth degree, but for others, it will be mesmerizing for whatever reason they can find it to be so; either reaction seems to be an acceptable one. Visually, the film has quite a bit to it, though again, it will be largely how people choose to take the film that will determine if the visuals appeal to them or not. Glazer has a very purposeful editing style as well, making sure the rhythm of his film is precisely so, down to the same number of frames between certain shots, and I could tell that this directing style extended to the visual department and the direction given to the actors as well; though, a good number of the encounters Johansson has driving around in her van were apparently random, improvised encounters shot with hidden cameras, for what that’s worth to anyone who might watch this one. The one aspect that I did think worked unequivocally, and that I took great enjoyment in, was the musical score; it was deliciously off-putting, using stringed instruments warped and twisted around to greatly unsettle the viewer, and knowing when to up the ante and when to recede into the background to let the visuals of the film largely carry it.

I don’t really know what the point of all this was, this film. It didn’t go anywhere, and basically didn’t do anything, and unlike Boyhood, it really needed a narrative to carry it, but it didn’t have one, and there was no reason why not. Glazer, from what I got out of this, evidently wanted this to be more of an art exhibit than a film, and if those were his intentions, then I think he succeeded, but mostly because there wasn’t any other possible goal that he otherwise could’ve achieved with what he’s done here. I asked in the opener what this was really worth, and whether or not it deserved its newly-minted place in the Book, as well as what I felt about it all. Here’s what I ended up with, and it’s an insight I’m surprised I hadn’t made yet up to this point: just because a film, this one, is a truly unique experience, one that viewers have likely never had and may never have again, that doesn’t mean it is an experience that one has to have before they die. This, I think, is the mistake the editors of the Book have made with some of their selections, especially the ones in the bottom range of my ratings scale; Under the Skin, while certainly an experience, isn’t really an experience that one needs to have, or that one should have. If one is interested in having an experience like this, then Under the Skin is here, ready for you. Otherwise, you don’t really need to see this. There’s no point, no reward, and nothing of substance to it, aside from the music, and if you’re really interested in that, I’m sure you can pick up an album of the soundtrack somewhere. If you do, and for whatever reason you want a little context toward what you’re listening to, just be aware of what you’re getting into.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

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2 thoughts on “Under the Skin

  1. I thought this was a complete waste of my time. This is the sort of film where I imagine that the director is laughing at the critical acclaim. He put up something incomprehensible and everyone is scared to say they don’t get it.

  2. “The one aspect that I did think worked unequivocally, and that I took great enjoyment in, was the musical score; it was deliciously off-putting…”

    I don’t think I’ve ever used the words “deliciously” and “off-putting” together. I found the score to be EXTREMELY annoying – to the point that I hit Mute and turned on the subtitles to finish watching the movie.

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