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The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

‘Under the Skin’ proves to be a thought-provoking sci-fi film


Every year in movie history, there is one film will amaze its audiences with breathtaking visuals and thought-provoking ideas. At the end, it will leave them with a sense of wonder for the art work’s meaning. To cite some example of those kind of films: anything Stanley Kubrick ever made in his career, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film “The Holy Mountain,” David Lynch’s 2001 film “Mulholland Drive” and Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film “Inception.”

Those type of films are like abstract paintings from early 20th Century. The artists leave their viewers to analyze the work, bringing their own meaning to the piece. Under the Skin, a sci-fi drama starring Scarlett Johansson is one of those films.

The film, directed by Jonathan Glazer of “Sexy Beast” fame, begins with a small light in the middle of black, blank screen. Then we see a sphere, presumably a planet, with a big hole in the center. The scene cuts to black liquid filling up the gap and it jumps to our protagonist’s eye, one of film’s recurring visual motifs. And please, don’t ever expect this movie to be an “Invasion of the Body Snatcher” kind of film. It is much more sophisticated than that.

Beginning in Scotland, a male motorcyclist alien takes a lifeless woman’s body to a white van. Another alien, played by Scarlett Johansson, who takes a body of an attractive woman, puts on the woman’s clothing and goes out with a white van picking up men. All the while she is being monitored by a motorcyclist alien. Johansson’s character lures them into a trap with a promise of sex, but the victims are immersed in a black liquid and their flesh is harvested. While hunting for men, she gets very curious about humanity on Earth.

There is barely any dialogue in the film; it’s all gorgeous visuals with eerie music and little talking. With their thick Scottish accents, I barely understand what the characters are saying, but that doesn’t matters after all. Director Glazer is only interested in communicating with his audience through the actors’ performances, visuals and sounds.

Cinematographer Daniel Landin used hidden cameras to capture everyday people’s empathy in Glasgow, Scotland, as our main alien fell down in middle of the street and everyone helped her to stand up (remember that Johansson falling down meme?). Landin and Glazer shot a series of montages of Glasgow people doing regular things, to capture Johansson’s alien character’s state of mind. As she learns more about humanity and meeting with different kinds of men, we begin to sympathize with her. Despite having a big-name actress like Scarlett Johansson, the film cast non-professional actors with improvisational skills, this use of realism made the film chilling as if aliens could be anywhere.

The unsettling soundtrack composed by first-timer Mica Levi gave the eerie scenes themselves a character as the audience could feel this suspense the film invoked (think Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”). Violin noises, drum beating, and electronic chord help to picture the enveloping aura of Johansson luring her victims.

With all these abstract use of sounds and visuals, the film reminded me of Kubrick’s “The Shining or 2001: A Space Odyssey.” I kept thinking about what “Under the Skin” means and what the director is trying to tell us. Is it about what it means to be a female as this alien discovers more about herself? Is it a dialectical analysis on human sexuality and men’s views on femininity? Or is it a dry, satirical commentary on industrial farming, which is the main theme of the novel the film loosely was based on?

Even though Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” left me a tad confused and sometimes bothered by its self-indulgence, the experience of watching the film is simulating enough to me to recommend any film theorists out there. It is gorgeous, sexy, thought-provoking and mysterious.

By Jay Whang

What did you think of “Under the Skin?”

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