“Under the Skin” Will Get Under Your Skin

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I watched the film Under the Skin recently.  Scarlett Johannsson is absolutely fabulous as an alien being who comes to the Earth to feed on human beings.  The basic premise is that she rents space that looks like a house.  Once inside, it is dark, and there appears to be a shining black floor which she can walk across, but which becomes an oil-like substance her prey sinks into.  Once under the surface, they are “emptied” until they are just a floating envelope of their skin.  The audience only has a glimpse or two of this, and it’s quite disturbing, but not completely grotesque.  Strangely though, there seems to be no pain or panic or struggle from her victims once they are in the “black ooze.”  They just go into a strange trance-like state.  And, posing as a beautiful woman, she lures men only (no women) with an offer of sexual intimacy, and they follow her into the house like lambs to the slaughter.  As a science fiction film, it was “meh,” but as a cerebral, exhaustive study of those threads of human connectivity, this film is masterfully accomplished.

It moves slowly, but that’s because it is focused on several sub-topics at any one time: human connection/loneliness/desperation/disgust/revulsion/deviance/ compatibility/humor/sensitivity… Yeah, take your pick—some or all of these aspects are winding through it at any given time.  There is beauty/eroticism mixed with sincerity/generosity/decency. This film is the real-deal-surreal—and I don’t mean the hipster idea of the wow-man-it-was-weird surreal—I mean it was the old fashioned dreamlike, stream of consciousness, out of focus, walking a foot off the ground, flying goats playing harps, surreal.  Slow and otherworldly with little moments of epiphany thrown in.  But no true understanding at the end, only suppositions, and that she was not real though really here.  I know that sounds odd, but it was an odd film, folks. Watch it, and you’ll know what I mean.

The reason why I watched it in the first place, was to see if it connects to or even speaks to my current project.  I think insofar as it looks at who a person is behind their eyes, then yes, it did.  The “big deal,” for me anyway, about Under the Skin is (SPOILER ALERT) that it is bizarrely unexpected that the alien’s covering of skin would be enveloping a black void so dense with…with…with isolation. Maybe??  Is she looking for connection with her victims before she feeds on them?  Or is it the connection she feeds upon—does the black they sink into represent her isolation?  Or is she simply lying to them so they will go with her? And then when she really does make an actual connection…is this her idea of emotion or is this fellow a port in the storm? And what was up with her in the love scene when she throws him off her and hastily checks out her vagina? I can’t be sure, but I think the expression on my face in that moment was probably the same as his.  Poor dude.  But, in all sincerity, I think she is worried that he has “broken through” her layer of skin.  And that, in itself, speaks volumes to human connection and intimacy—it’s always a penetrative act where persons break through and into each other…hmmm.  My project certainly speaks to the “Othering” of people and their consequent isolation, frustration, and even rage.

There is a rage element in this film also.  (SPOILER ALERT) We see the man who tends the forest paths as a job.  He’s like a forest ranger of sorts.  Talk about your lonely jobs. This character is completely mechanical and a recognizable metaphor not only for the frustration of isolation, but also for the facelessness that underpins a predatory instinct infecting the banal paired with an utter lack of accountability, and a hint of cliché American xenophobia with the urge to destroy what cannot be immediately understood.  He first gives her directions and treats her with concern. He then hunts her down and attempts to rape her. He then attempts to kill her when he sees what lies beneath her skin.  Wow…is that a statement of the stereotypical male-fear-of-commitment/intimacy, or what?  Hahaha. No offense to my male readers—no sucker-punches intended.  I’m not that kind of feminist.  The scene had true yuck-factor, and while I want to accuse it of being unnecessary, it actually was quite necessary.  After all, wasn’t she the predator all along? Wasn’t she the ultimate rejector? Wasn’t she the one who couldn’t be satisfied by either real or unreal, by lies or truth, by indifference or emotion? Because, in her travels, that’s what she finds comprises life here—either one or the other or a little bit of both.

The film was reflective of my Frankenstein theme in some ways.  In this novel, I have noted the way that death has been an ironic reflection of life.  For instance, “in the novel, Frankenstein remains frozen in his fear, and it seems fitting that Frankenstein’s fear-wasted life should end in a frozen wasteland.” **   In Under the Skin, (SPOILER ALERT) the alien creature is the ultimate predatory rapist, who dies at the hands of a predatory rapist.

I could go into the symbolism of a detached, sexually aggressive, solitary woman being depicted as an alien creature in a woman suit but actually black and soulless underneath, but I think just mentioning it is good enough.  Lol.

I do recommend this film as definitely adult fare for people who are craving a bit of depth and are tired of the predictability of the Hollywood rom-com or action-thriller.  This film is a glass of wine and discussion afterward. I was actually sorry I watched it alone, because it would have been nice to get someone else’s take on it.  It does have that whole peel-able onion thing going on.

On a related note, I watched M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, wondering if there was a zombie thread in it anywhere. All I can say about The Happening is what happened? It’s a miss, folks, unless it comes on TV for free, and you’re laid up with a cold and have nothing better to do—or can’t reach the remote.  Which is how I came to watch the movie Hallowe’en: Season of the Witch. It was a sad, sad day.

Okay, back to the project…

** Um, yeah, that’s me, in my upcoming paper.

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