The great thing about Science Fiction is that it explores so many different ideas and possibilities in our universe. Sometimes, even social messages can be found in SciFi and we don’t even know it. Often, the SciFi that comes to mind is the evil aliens waging war on he humans and it’s up to us to defeat these unknown, different creatures. However, sometimes we get to know these “aliens” and discover that there’s more to them than what we see on the surface. We also forget that to them, we’re also aliens who seem different and are unknown.
A bright light illuminates the screen and all sorts of images flood towards the center. As you look long enough, you see the formation of an eye and hear someone learning to speak. Cut to a night sky in Scotland, where a mysterious man rides his motorcycle into Edinburgh and picks up the body of a seemingly deceased woman. In a completely white room, a woman (Scarlett Johnasson) unclothes the deceased and puts her clothes on. Afterwards, this creature, disguised as a beautiful young woman, roams the streets and attempts to pick up men and understand the culture she’s a part of. When she lures men back to her house, things take a turn for the weird and the men are trapped in some other world.
She only gets better at her job over time, but as her trappings grow more personal, she slowly learns what humans are like. Whether they’re lonely, social, men, women, or children, she often contemplates human life as she explores the limits of her human skin and assets. As she grows more curious about body, mind, and interactions, she becomes more vulnerable to the world around her and this comes at the displeasure of the man on the motorcycle. Her new life is rapidly changing and the different types of people she meets are growing more diverse, which can be very good and very bad. All the while, she is still not who she appears to be, which makes her more or less dangerous than anyone else may eve know.
Under the Skin easily stands out as one of the year’s best and most important pieces of Science Fiction. Its exploration of human nature and self-exploration through an “alien” perspective works astoundingly well and it paints a somewhat grim picture of the societal norms that are present today. The film is all kinds of eerie and experimental and fortunately, those two things only make it better and have been the reason for so many Stanley Kubrick comparisons.
Scarlett Johansson has been playing a plethora of new roles recently, each demonstrating a side to her that we know very little about. Here, she works wonders as we watch her alien inhabit the skin of a woman, adapt to our cultures, and even attempt to pickup men. Her long stares and inquisitive nature make her stick out like a sore thumb to men, but she uses her beauty and seductive nature to lure those men into her traps. Johansson bares all in this film as a manner of character exploration and to reflect the realities of the male gaze. Watching her character grow and seeing Johansson question her surroundings is a marvelous thing and it’s those small quirks and the mannerisms she displays that make her performance such a powerful one.
As far as any messages go in this film, it’s clear that male gaze and female portrayal is a huge issue faced in society, especially in the film industry. Women are often viewed as sex objects and have little-to-no character. Men stare creepily, but the staring is justified as “admiration”. Seeing this scenario flipped brought these issues into light, as Johansson’s methods of stalking and gathering men were very off-putting. The way she effortlessly manipulates them is almost unfair and you empathize with these victims. Then, you also start to empathize with the inquisitive creature living in the skin of a human, as men harass her and only want her for her looks. This film is a powerful, albeit creepy, look at our society and how we’ve come to view and perceive women and certain scenarios, all under the guise of science fiction.
I get why director/writer Jonathan Glazer and his style of film has garnered comparisons to the extraordinary work of Kubrick. Under the Skin is visually stimulating and shows some very strange sequences that explore an unknown realm. The opening sequence is mind-bending and one of the coolest/strangest things I’ve seen all year. The editing in this film allows for more taking in of the scene and the slow fades reflect mood and how Johansson’s character is reacting to certain events. Combined with an unnerving score that utilizes the violin at the right moments, every minute of this film grabs your attention and no matter how bad you’d like to look away, you’re just incapable of doing so. This film is so oddly appealing and it’s one that deals with some dark and disturbing subject matter, so heads up.
For all her seducing and trapping of people, I never felt like Johansson’s character was inherently bad. She’s clearly not human and her curiosities are genuinely pleasing to watch. Whether it’s her first time seeing her reflection, or the first time she feels sexual pleasure, this creature is experiencing what it’s like to be human and has to make changes to fit in. She’s inexperienced in almost everything you can think of and watching her learn is equally as engrossing as watching her struggle. Though she may be a body-snatcher, there’s that human level of oddity that makes her almost too human. She gets to know people and learns that not everyone has bad intentions and that she doesn’t always have to be bad. Humans have the power to choose and understand. There are some gorgeous exploration shots that really emphasize how people see others and themselves. Simply wonderful stuff.
My mind never stopped thinking throughout this film and certain haunting images and scenes still plague my mind, as I try to decipher what exactly they mean. The exploration of humanity is unreal and it really puts a lot into perspective. Under the Skin is smart, metaphorical, straight-forward, and top-notch Sci-Fi. It’s also got that Art-House bonus, which only makes its efforts even better. This will be another film that I’ll watch a few more times to fully understand and I love when films intrigue me and incite me enough to watch them multiple times. By no means is this film conventional on any level, but you’ll find that its story and humanity are. All you have to do is look Under the Skin.
Under the Skin Trailer