A Cinematic Odyssey
Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
The one film in recent memory to make me question everything I know about life, death, and a general love of movies is "2001: A Space Odyssey". What Stanley Kubrick did with that film is something that should be marveled, analyzed, and written about for years to come. I did not think another film could come that close to brilliance until I saw Jonathan Glazer's "Under The Skin", a hauntingly intoxicating film with a stellar performance from Scarlett Johansson.
The film tells the story of an alien (Johansson) in Scotland who lures men with the promise of sex into a blackish blue liquid that preserves them for something far more sinister. The longer she's on Earth and the more she studies humans, the more curious and sympathetic she becomes. She's obviously not of this world, but "Under The Skin" itself feels like something otherworldly in its style. Glazer's images are best expressed as something Special Agent Dale Cooper would call "both wonderful and strange" bringing to mind the claustrophobic acid-trip of an ending that "2001" provided. From the opening minutes - with a score perfectly complimentary to the images on screen - to the quiet ending, Glazer never hesitates to make the audience squirm in their seats. Just when you think the story cannot possibly be any darker or stranger, he ups the anti.
The darker the story gets, however, the more I found myself sympathizing with the alien creature and less with her victims. In one sequence, she happens upon a disfigured man (Adam Pearson) who, as a result of his condition, has never been with a woman. She compliments his hands, they make small talk, and never once does she mention or seem to care about his appearance. Their exchange is essential to the journey her character takes, seemingly causing her to realize what she's doing to these people. She sees the best and worst in humanity and becomes more aware of the body she inhabits.
It's a brave role, that much is certain, and Johansson doesn't shy away from anything. Her performance has stuck with me, as I find myself thinking about this movie nearly every day since I first saw it. There simply are not a lot of movies that can creep in like "Under The Skin" does; a welcome respite from the summer blockbuster season. What Glazer and Johansson have accomplished here is Kubrickian in nature, but wholly original in style and form. This isn't a movie you watch, it's one you experience. Don't be afraid to let it in.