Space Oddities 5 : Under (The Skin) Tale

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Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: A girl rides a van alone at night. She’s not a vampire in Iran, as in Ana Lily Amirpour’s movie, but an alien in Scotland, and this is Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin,” from 2013. The story doesn’t differ much between these two genre subversions: both are alienating, largely sculpted around silences, and both feature a beautiful creature (here, Scarlett Johansson) who seeks men, seduces them with hardly any words, and sucks the life out of them.

It’s a simple plot, but it is not presented to us in simple ways. If Johansson plays an alien figuring out the rules of our planet, we’re equally invited to figure out the rules of this tale; we are turned into alien spectators ourselves. The alien succubus may be malignant in some ways, a sexual predator down to the creepy van, but she’s also, ironically, a source of gentleness to the people she interacts with-most of them non-actors Scarlett and crew picked up from the streets. An encounter with a (real life) deformed man may well be one of the biggest moments of physical kindness he’d ever experienced- and it came from one of the world’s biggest sex symbols.  

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From the hidden-camera look at Scotland’s working class neighborhoods- through the uncanny black drowning pool on Alien Johansson’s inner sanctum- to the insistent, scrapey violin score by Mica Levi… everything here is imbued with creepy, otherworldly beauty. Director Jonathan Glazer is famous for commercials and music videos that often pay direct homage to Stanley Kubrick, ( such as the “Clockwork Orange” clip for Blur’s “The Universal.” ) But if Kubrick cast his cold alien gaze upon simulacrums of life, Glazer gives us a Kubrickian trip in which the alien gaze gets increasingly warmer and more human. “Under the Skin” is one of the most remarkable, underrated cinematic experiences of the decade.

Beatricia Beatricia: Kudos to Jonathan Glazer for figuring out how to adapt a very odd novel by Michel Faber, (the writer best known for “The Crimson Petal and the White.”) BUT how did an alien get a driver’s license? And did she buy the van from an easy-going dealer? Did she swipe it from a junk heap while a Doberman slept? Where did she learn how to flirt in English? I’m picturing an “Intro to Sweet-Talking Earthlings” class on a hovering spaceship, and that’s a little too comical for my taste. No Cherry.

Tracey Tracey: On the one hand, I like this wonder woman who turns the whole notion of female victimization on its head (at least until a final collision with inhumanity that’s still making me squirm). On the other hand, Scarlett Johansson as yet another un-human Black Widow? That’s getting trite. Reluctant Cherry.

Trent Trent: Scarlett Johansson!!! Nekkid!!! Cherry, obviously!!! I wish I could drown in her alien pool of goo. This is definitely Stanley Rubik Cube’s hottest movie.

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Father Hank Hank: Wonderful movie, pretty easy to follow. (ScarJo is supposed to be a robot, isn’t she? Does the motorcycle man represent Jesus? The Black Pool is a topical attack on how BP pollutes the oceans with oil? Am I at least on the right track?)

Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: Mork from Ork never had to resort to nudity to win my heart, why does Scarlett from Mars? I’m not surprised that her scandalous behavior is tolerated in Glasgow’s dogging parks, but it is a depressing day when it makes its way into this family’s all-American living room. Truly, the aliens have already won.

Blurbarella Blurbarella: “Scarlett Johansson– Supposed to be a Robot?– Hottest movie!”

4 out of 6 Cherries.

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