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ICYMI: Take a look at 'Under the Skin' on Netflix


May 17, 2016

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    If I hadn’t read a review of Under the Skin prior to seeing it, I would likely have abandoned ship after approximately half an hour, wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into. As it was, though, I had an inkling when I approached the film, so I toughed it out. In fact, I toughed it out not once, but three times, and with each subsequent viewing, I liked it more.
    The film, released in 2014, is available on Amazon Prime and stars Scarlett Johansson as a foxy seductress who also just so happens to be an extraterrestrial. She combs the Scottish countryside in search of virile young hitchhiking men, to whom she offers a ride and delivers a death sentence.
    The film is a quiet one, peppered throughout with terrifying violin and painfully awkward getting-to-know-you banter, which helps her to establish which of her various, unfortunate passengers are least likely to be missed.
    Those men who have no families, no girlfriends, no jobs or are transient become her targets. She seduces them each through a bizarre chiaroscuro striptease, during which the men are subsumed by an inexplicable black void where, we can only assume, they are left to die.
    When the alien snatches a kindly, deformed man off the street on his way to the supermarket, everything changes. She asks him probing questions about how long it’s been since he touched someone and she places his hands on her face. She then invites him to her place, where she decides last minute to release him, naked, back into the world.
    Suddenly, she has lost faith in her mission. She abandons her creepy kidnapping van and takes off into the Scottish countryside, all busty and coatless and vulnerable. Alone on a random bus, she understands as a result of the bus driver’s interrogations that no human could withstand the wet winter without outerwear, and accepts the coat of the man sitting behind her.
    From here, she spends a few days in silent, awkward courtship, trying her hand at romance. She is stiff as a doll on the bed, though, and becomes aggressively frustrated as the encounter progresses, reaching for a table lamp and wielding it like a flashlight at her genitals. Apparently disgusted by what she finds there, she throws the lamp to the floor, and off she goes again into the wild.
    When the alien is not wiping men off the face of the planet, she’s busy trying to understand what it is to be human, and this is one of the film’s most attractive features. Seen through the alien’s eyes, “human” becomes a question — and one not easily answered.
    She observes city dwellers that hustle and smoke on sidewalks, and watches families swimming in the ocean. She falls on a sidewalk and when kindly strangers lift her up, she stares at them blankly. She wanders through a shopping mall, overwhelmed but easily catching on to consumer culture.
    When she attempts to eat cake in a quiet bistro, forking it reverently, she spits it back up onto the plate almost immediately and with very little gusto. The other diners go mute, stare at her briefly, and resume their distracted mumbling. Flatware clinks against plates. Her episode was just a ripple in the pond.
    The film is based on a book of the same title by Michel Faber, which goes into much more detail and leaves very few questions unanswered. The film is a loose adaptation of the book, but one that, without much dialogue or explication, still does a lovely job of representing the way it must feel to be so very alone in a crowd, the only one of your kind.
    Under the Skin is essentially what would happen if Stanley Kubrick and Bjork had collaborated to make a movie. It is painfully slow and phonically disturbing. It’s also very dark — sometimes problematically so. It is a baffling film and in most ways, it’s too subtle, but it is really stunning, too.
    I won’t spoil the ending for those who are patient enough to reach it on their own, but it is one of the more visually arresting experiences I have had in the cinema. It is eerie and horrific and gorgeous. It is unsettling and unexpected. It is desperately sad, and it’s surprisingly human.   
    
    
    
   

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