Movie Review - Under the Skin

I have a feeling that writer-director Jonathan Glazer knows what's happening in this movie. He simply has no intention of letting the audience know. The only dialogue is small talk and there is no exposition.

There are repeated images that get no explanation at all. You either except them on their face or extrapolate some kind of metaphor for sexual politics or gender exploration. Some interpretations have described the female protagonist referred to as Laura, played by Scarlett Johansson, as an alien or some kind of newly formed life-form unaware of the world. The interpretations almost paint her as sympathetic or even as a victim of circumstance or base need.

This is just a surface level look at a serial killer. As such, I made no sympathetic connection. Further examination and conclusion drive me to think Glazer's work is ultimately misogynistic. The opening scene, for example, is of an actual female victim being carried into a white van. The woman is either dead or near dead. The woman is then stripped of her clothes for Johansson's character to wear and furthermore possess.

Later, we see Johansson in a mall where she obviously does some shopping. She apparently buys apparel and cosmetics, which begs the question that if she could shop at a mall and purchase clothes, why did she strip naked the female victim in the opening scene. What is the purpose of this female victim if not to feed into the misogynistic through-line of many horror films?

The film follows Johansson who basically uses her sexuality to get what she wants. We don't know what she wants. We never do. She lures men into her figurative web. She might do so as a spider would for food, or merely for sadistic pleasure, and she does so without even understanding what sex is. When she actually tries to experience actual intercourse she can't do it. She physically can't. Her reaction is then to reject all men at that point. Her punishment for such is attempted rape and the complete breakdown of her identity thus far. Because there is no exposition, there is no context to place this. Glazer is punishing to his female character here. Yet, it's difficult to feel sorry for her.

Johansson's performance seems to suggest some kind of hunger, a biological compulsion to do what she does. Is she acting out of an animal instinct? At times, she's talkative and charming, but most times, she's totally blank. She's cold, acting with unemotional determination. It's a personification realized for most serial killers. Johansson comes across as not much different than Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, except her methods are bold and exotic, and she's set in Scotland.

Yes, Charlize Theron won the Oscar for playing a serial killer in Monster (2003), but Johansson is more of a monster in this film. She's a monster, not just in the physical sense but in the psychological sense. She seems to have no compassion or regard for human life. There is one exception. Johansson's character shows what might be considered pity to a man who is facially deformed. Yet, is this pity or a rejection of him because unlike the other men she attracts, the deformed man isn't beautiful or handsome?

How Glazer depicts the entrapment and killing of the men may or may not be literal. Their naked bodies are suspended or float in some kind of fluid. Their innards are eventually sucked out leaving only the skin. Again, with no exposition, there is no context to this or to why it's happening. All we know is the skin is left behind, so the skin must be important in some way. If there is value to the skin of these young, good-looking men, that value for the deformed man has got to be less.

Because Glazer has no interest in giving clues that the audience can deduce or carrying the explanations from the book by Michel Faber on which this film is based, it is difficult to know what the value of this deformed man truly is. There is this sense that the film wants you to pity this deformed man, but at no point prior to his being freed from the trap does Johansson's character act or behave pitiful. I simply never knew what she was thinking.

Glazer's imagery is very provocative. Glazer loves his super-wide shots of the Scottish countryside with characters as tiny specks moving across the land. There are a lot of reflective surfaces utilized to interesting effect. The final images are very powerful. The fire in the snow and the smoke against falling snowflakes are just interesting contradictions within the frame that are creepy and quite disturbing.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for full-frontal nudity, sexual content, some violence and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.


Popular Posts