Under the Skin (2013) – A Mesmerizing Work about Self-discovery

Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” doesn’t just bring charm to aesthetic films. Yet, it’s weird like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or even all Jodorowsky works. However, Glazer also carries a theme that is the mainstream audience can still accept it a little. It’s a hard movie to sit through but it’s not too difficult when compared to “2001”. It’s a science fiction movie but not a blockbuster type movie in general. This is a movie about aliens but not an action film. Instead, this is a pure arthouse movie, a loose adaptation of a novel written by Michael Faber.

Walter Campbell, besides Glazer as the director, handled the screenplay. In the cast, this movie only has one name of all the most familiar actors, Scarlett Johansson, or people would know her as Black Widow in Marvel. Yet, for an actress who plays in mainstream films, it’s amazing to see Johansson lead this indie movie as alien hiding under the skin of a beautiful woman. It’s about a woman, apparently an alien in the form of a beautiful woman, disguising herself in an area in Scotland.

Johansson is in charge of trapping men who are tempted by their beauty. With this mode, she sent them to a trap in the form of thick black liquid that was able to farm their bodies. Her mode is to pretend to get lost, ask a stranger from their address,—and all of these strangers were not an actor—and offer them a ride. However, Johansson faced a doubt, as if beginning to become obsessed with these humans. She learns about empathy, emotions, cosmetics, feelings, and so on. The alien, which was originally just an instrument without emotion, slowly grows her human nature.

“Under the Skin” isn’t a complex movie to say but more like an experimental experience about the meaning of nothing. I prefer this film more than just a complex screenplay. Glazer brings the story of an alien on Earth but not an ordinary alien story. Even though this movie is about aliens and her self-aware, honestly, there is no connection at all. This movie is full of metaphors, often confusing, lacks dialogue, and so painful to look at. It’s an erotic thriller movie, even if you just want to see Scarlett Johansson playing naked on screen might be one of your reasons to watch this movie.

Yet, I still don’t understand what this film is. Campbell needs enough energy in writing the adaptation of a novel of “Under the Skin”. This movie was indeterminate, like shining brightly, but plays in the darkness. Every layer is matters and fortunately, this movie plays around as its theme. Even all of those people, if you don’t watch this movie using subtitles, might be hard. They all just gibberish and you still don’t know what they were just saying. Glazer put all of the hidden cameras in a Johansson van and they all didn’t seem to notice until the limbo scene.

The foundation in “Under the Skin” is different from any of us. Either you sit where or come from, your opinions are matters, unique, and right. Each symbolism doesn’t only work as an ornament and substance. However, it’s a crucial part of the building and creating imagery, sound, and layer. It’s about us, or maybe, it’s about being ourselves or pretending to be someone else. This movie has lots of open space, creates thousands of questions in every frame and detail, and still, you don’t know why or what.

I can say I don’t understand this film. And it’s hard for me or even for many people who just watched this movie. The first opening sequence is like a hypnotic eye, reminds me of HAL 9000 from “2001”. They also, HAL 9000 and Johansson’s alien, have similar characteristics. Both of them are self-aware of their surroundings, try to understand humans, have a glimmer of hope in their feelings, and act like humans in general. They think like humans, they have intellectual like humans, but they still don’t understand who they are.

This movie relies more on beautiful visuals, like most of all Jodorowsky’s works or even David Lynch movies. Jodorowsky likes images and colors but he didn’t need to explain to us what’s the mean of all of those things. Just like David Lynch. But, Glazer tries to explore our wild imagination about the creation of unknown creatures, like ourself also when created from babies. Only with the first sequence, it becomes an extraordinary sensation to me.

The calm cinematography, as well as the score by Mica Levi, is just amazing. It’s like getting into a haunted house and you feel like you can’t go anywhere. You also can’t get out once if you enter. It’s cold, eerie, jarring, yet the best trip I have ever felt. Glazer himself, I think, might not think of common sense or even understand each component in each of every frame. Just look at the transition in the beach scene. You can only hear the sound of a baby crying or how about the scene when Johansson has found her prey. Instantly, you are immediately in a dark room. It’s so increasingly hypnotic.

Scarlett Johansson as a femme fatale in this film honestly doesn’t do much other than being naked, make blank stares, etc. She was very low-key in speaking but the scene with Adam Pearson was quite emotional yet horror by the way. However, she makes use of body language, in addition to a blank expression, and gestures in a lot of scenes. There is a feeling of being isolated in a small room. Just like Johansson’s phase of change where she keeps learning new things. However, slowly, her nature began to erode like human traits.

Talk about mesmerizing work, I do have to say the 20 minutes of the ending probably has so much to talk about. It’s one of the jaw-dropping endings like the Stargate sequence in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Both of them also didn’t require dialogue whatsoever. It’s just the image and you try to analyze the frames. This isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s a segmented and unlimited movie such as “The Tree of Life” or “Synecdoche: New York“. “Under the Skin” is a momentum, celebration, filmmaking full of absurd metaphors of sound, sight, and image. And I dare to say if we will continue to talk about this film 10, 20, or maybe just 50 years into the future. Yet, this is a reflection of perfection, the validity meaning of “don’t judge the book by its cover.”

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *