Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Under the Skin": I Don't Get It

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

I don’t get it.  I just don’t understand this movie.  I don’t understand what message it’s trying to convey, I don’t understand why a talented actress like Scarlett Johansson would sign on for this movie, and I certainly don’t understand why other critics seemed to really enjoy it.  Under the Skin is trite and pointless, using its dour mood to mask a completely meaningless undertaking, but more than that, the film is just flat-out boring.  Maybe I’m just a bit dense when it comes to this particular film, but it seems to me to be a flop for first-time director Jonathan Glazer.

Scarlett Johansson plays an alien visitor who possesses the body of a woman and lures unsuspecting men into a trap that… does something to them, causing them to eventually shrivel away into a floating skin.  The film leaves a lot of its visual splendor up to interpretation, as there is very minimal dialogue and Johansson’s constantly vacant expression doesn’t do much in the way of communicating.  And that’s pretty much the sum of the film: Johansson goes from man to man, having varying experiences with each in her quest to rob them all of their essence or some such thing.  And it would be great at creating an eerie atmosphere if it weren’t so damn boring.

I recently watched an Eddie Izzard stand-up special where he described boredom as the winner against fear in the rock-paper-scissors of emotions.  That about sums up perfectly how I feel about Under the Skin.  See, creating an emotional atmosphere is all well and good, and the best films all do it.  However, they do so through context, making the viewer invested in the happenings on-screen by making the story relatable to feelings the viewer has felt before.  Throughout most of her performance, it’s near impossible to tell what Johansson’s character is thinking because she’s so damn busy being otherworldly that it’s impossible to care how she’s feeling.  The context she’s placed in doesn’t really help either, for we’re usually either watching her abduct another unsuspecting bloke, or just watching her do day-to-day human things with a sense of foreign detachment.  That is not compelling; it’s just ridiculously yawn-inducing.

I also had a vague feeling throughout the film that there was supposed to be a message about feminine sexuality, as Johansson’s body is showcased in vacant strip-teases and mirrored self-admirations multiple times.  However, I’d be very hard pressed to come up with what exactly that message is.  Various feminine archetypes are exhibited through Johansson’s experiences, such as the seductress, the love interest, and the attempted rape victim.  Yet none of those experiences ever seem to leave much of an impact on Johansson, for even while she assumes those roles, the same blank stare occupies her face.  There’s clearly an attempt being made here to say something meaningful, but the pieces don’t fit together into anything cohesive.  This just turns out to be the wanderings of an alien body-snatcher and the incredibly dull life that apparently is.

Maybe one of you will find something in Under the Skin to appreciate.  If someone could explain to me why this is supposed to be a good film, I’d greatly appreciate it.  But upon a first (and likely only) viewing, I cannot recommend Under the Skin.  It is pretentious, sophomoric tripe that only bodes ill for the future of director Glazer’s career.

Know of any art films that don’t quite reach the heights they wish to.  Complain about them in the comments below.

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