Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sister From Another Planet: Under the Skin with Scarlett Johansson

by Drew Martin
Before I watched the fairly new sci-fi movie Under the Skin, which is set in Scotland and features Scarlett Johansson, I saw the trailer. In it there is an LA Weekly quote, "A genuine revelation. We may finally have an heir to Kubrick."

After seeing it last night, I would say that's true even though that remark was probably inspired by a lot of deliberate Kubrick setups, especially from 2001: A Space Odyssey, such as his details of alignment and symmetry, abstract sequences, glowing white other world, free-floating goners, and sometimes painfully slow scenes.

Despite some obvious references, the whole film feels unique, and will certainly be the source of a lot of knock-offs, as you see following other groundbreaking movies such as The Matrix.

For me this was a little bit of The Brother From Another Planet meets 
Mary Howitt's 1829 poem The Spider and the Fly. The first line of the poem is "'Will you walk into my parlour?' said the Spider to the Fly." The cunning spider ensnares a naive fly through seduction and flattery. It is a cautionary tale about flattery and charm disguised for evil intentions.

Johansson is the perfect seductress, totally unemotional until her typical sultry charm is required to draw men into her tarry lair, in which they mindlessly sink, and are sucked of their innards. What I really like about this film is that such scenes, which sound cheesy, are handled with that numbing Kubrickesque dreaminess, and all the details about what is going on are never provided so you can fill in the blanks. This may be what saves this film from an onslaught of imitations: it is hard to copy something that is intentionally left out.

I really like the focus in this movie on the meaning of layers of clothing for sensitivity to our surroundings (a fur coat, a wetsuit, a borrowed jacket from a friend), and human skin as the thin membrane that it is: the undermost garment of fashion and the outermost layer of a person. The men that only want Johansson's flesh are pitted for their own. But then she seduces a young man with facial deformaties, played by Adam Pearson who has neurofibromatosis, which causes excess body tissue and non-cancerous tumours, as it did more excessively in Joseph Merrick, also known as the Elephant Man.
 She traps him then lets him go after staring at herself in the mirror, which is the moment she breaks from her prescribed routine and tries to achieve an unattainable human life. In a subsequent scene where a fully-naked Johansson examines her human form, she looks at her body in the mirror as if her skin is a new, beautiful dress.

Click here to watch the trailer for Under the Skin.