UNDER THE SKIN
Uninterested in conventional plot structure, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is a fractured collection of beautiful sounds and images from this world, and beyond. It’s less a story as much as a cinematic experience; depicting the travels of an alien on her initial visit to earth.
Scarlett Johansson plays the unnamed alien and as she drives around Scotland in her large white van, she uses her beauty to seduce random men before she ensnares them. That is as much of the plot as can be described, as Under the Skin is intentionally opaque, but remarkably never at the expense of its capacity as a character study.
Her motives and intentions are never explained, nor is the fate of the men. We get only the sensation of their plight as they transform in an abstract and fantastical sequence. With this same cinematic style Glazer shoots our own world, for it is as foreign to the alien as hers is to ours.
Initially it seems she’s given only the abilities to drive a car and flirt, but that changes when she picks up a disfigured man on his way to buy groceries. It’s suggested he changes her in some way, but it’s never explained how. From then on she abandons the van, the kidnapping of men, and takes a vow of silence before giving herself over to pursuit of the human sensations, that had only been a mild curiosity before.
Did she change? Is she sympathetic? Did the disfigured man teach her something about the cruelty of the seduction that hit her with profound impact? Her human skin has been just a costume for the film’s first half, is that no longer so?
It could be, but we could also be attaching that narrative onto to her. Compassion is human and we praise humanity above all because it is the only existence we know.
Aliens in films look different, but we give them very human traits; after all, we don’t know any other. By deconstructing the science fiction film Glazer gives us a true depiction of alien life as close as any of us are going to understand.
Here, Glazer opens the door for interpretation. He doesn’t know her motivations either, but instead he understands that he shouldn’t -that we shouldn’t.
It is far more plausible to believe that alien life will have nothing resembling humanity in it; why should it? Glazer knows that the only way to get a glimpse of that alien existence and to comprehend it, is to witness someone becoming human for the very first time.
Under the Skin is a testament to film’s unique cinematic language.