I was quite surprised to learn that Jonathan Glazer chose Scarlett Johansson as the anti-heroine of his new sci-fi movie; Under the Skin. I personally never thought of her as a great actress, but I believe it was because I always found her in the same type of roles; the pulpy blond with curves that every man falls in love with. But even though the storyline stays basically the same, in Under the Skin she’s not blond, and she’s not human.
Hence, Alien Johansson, is a killer hooker, yes I explain. She wandered around Scotland, in her white van, looking for men. She starts by simulating her being lost, and finishes by offering to drop off the man to wherever he’s going. But then she makes a lusty proposition, and head to her house, which is actually more of a portal. She undresses, moving backwards, teasing the guy to follow her, until hypnotized he sinks into a black water, and get trapped under it. In there, he disintegrates, leaving only his skin (this human skin might be used by aliens but it isn’t very explicit).
Anyway, one day she ran into a guy suffering from neurofibromatosis (Adam Pearson), a tumor disorder, and offers him the first woman contact he never had, led him into her house but then spare his life. This encounter provoked something in her, triggering a particule of her humanity.
Now, about this opening, from start we are gravitating into space, among stars and planets, metaphorically implying we are inside one of her eyes. As soon as we quit this galaxy, we see naked Scarlett, taking clothes from a dead girl, in a timeless, spaceless white decor. The laying girl is actually a broken alien; a tear comes down to her face – when our leading lady finishes to dress – meaning that she felt something, something human, she let herself be exposed to human emotions. Thus we understand that if this alien, killing men, starts to feel something, she will die. A connection between two things are now possible. The eyes and the bikers. Indeed, the bikers are several men, mentoring alien women, making sure, by looking into their eyes, that there are still insensitive, cold.
Director Jonathan Glazer, turned his sci-fi movie, into a film d’auteur, something powerful and poignant. A new way of representing aliens, reducing them, when exposed to human emotions and feelings, to trapped and scared animals. They aren’t familiar with their human bodies, and there is this beautiful scene, where our main character, looks into the mirror, naked, and explores the surface of her body, her movements, and muscles. And later she will learn that, sexual intercourses between aliens and humans aren’t possible, they aren’t compatible due to an extraterrestrial body that is not fit for that. To dig even deeper, we might link the penetration as something happening under the skin. And there are many phallic visual metaphors used by Glazer, especially when those bewitched men enter the house, enter a black hole, into the abyss of the female alien.
However, this overwhelming loneliness that our protagonist is exposed to, is the most powerful and poignant thing. Scarlett Johansson gave her best performance, and proved her potential, or finally had been albe to. We empathize with her, and there is something disturbing, a sort of small fire of fear we can experience through out the film, that the actress is maintaining. We feel that something is not right, that she’s not belonging to this place, to this nature, that isn’t particularly friendly, but is rather threatening, and rejecting her in a way, like a body would reject an external material. Johansson gave a very physical performance, she expressed with her body, a body which reminded me of Motoko Kusanagi‘s, the cyborg of Ghost in the Shell.
Finally, Under the Skin is a beautiful movie, that deserves the patience of the spectator, deserves interest and concentration. It is all about symbolic and requires attention. It is a movie we observe more than we hear.