Under the Skin (2013)
July 18, 2014 1:39 PM - Subscribe

In this bold adaptation of a 2000 sci-fi/surrealist novel, a visitor to Scotland combs the cities and countryside for unattached men.

The film is a minimalist adaptation of the 2000 book of the same name, cutting out everything that doesn't directly pertain to the main character's experience.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton (22 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
For me, the scene where she picks up the man with the disfigured face and they both explore sensuality from different angles is one of the best moments in cinema in some time.

I also was glad I knew nothing about the book or the backstory. It's not at all needed to enjoy the film, and allows it to be a much more trippy/existential experience until the plot gradually coalesces and we can figure out what she is.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 1:49 PM on July 18, 2014


So my operating reading for the film right now is that the arc of is the process of learning to be a woman, and as she learns more about being a woman the less comfortable she is around men, the less sure of herself, and eventually the ending occurs (how spoilery are we being here?). It's essentially about learning the position of women in rape culture.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:52 PM on July 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


How does that reading relate to the neurofibromatosis character's scenes?
posted by naju at 3:50 PM on July 18, 2014


I think that scene is mostly important (as relates to her character arc at least) because it signals her development of empathy, for lack of a better term. The beginning of the scene has her going through the same script she used with everyone prior, mostly just basic questions and repeating phrases, which for all hr men prior was enough to get them to follow her home, a thing which she probably didn't think about at all. But when he reacts with such need and loneliness you can hear her change and begin to actually sincerely ask questions and become curious about him, about his loneliness and the importance of human contact.

I think (but correct me if I'm wrong) that that scene leads pretty directly to the second segment of the film-- there's an early scene where you see her observing men, watching men from her cab and learning about them; there's a second scene later in which she's observing only women and learning about herself (or her form). Which is also matched by the bit where she stares at herself in the mirror.

I don't remember the direct sequence of events but I believe those three parts are tied together.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:19 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm struggling a bit with the interpretation, because until the final scenes I don't see examples of men exhibiting rape culture behavior in the movie.
posted by naju at 4:26 PM on July 18, 2014


(Not that I have a better interpretation. I was somewhat frustrated by what I considered a lack of depth underneath the portent and atmosphere.)
posted by naju at 4:42 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well I only came up with the idea after watching it and have yet to go back to see it with that in mind.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:54 PM on July 18, 2014




That's a much a better developed version of what I was thinking towards.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:27 PM on July 18, 2014


I did not like this film. I found myself asking "why?" a lot. (It's a long list; what is this characters motivations? Why does she need to hunt? Why is she undressing a dead woman in the beginning, wouldn't she dissolve her like the men? Why is the male alien riding this motorbike and doing x y and z? Why why why... )

I do not feel that it was made well enough (in the dramatic narrative sense) to have earned the context that people are putting into it. Of course the viewer is free to interpret it any way they like; it is art after all. But I didn't care for how what little there was to the story was told.

The little baby crying alone on the beach was the most striking and arresting sequence in the film to me, but even then I kept wondering what had happened to it. The film does point out that it was never found, along with the drowned parents, so did it get dissolved too? And (oh no, here's another) why?
posted by Catblack at 10:18 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the character's motivations are pretty clear. She is a predator. She needs to lure men into her lair in order to get something from them and uses surface sexual attractiveness as bait. I don't think the details are terribly important (this film is poetry, not prose) although there is a suggestion that the men's meat and viscera are being harvested in some way and their skins left behind. She is ruthless about this, and quite effective, until she happens across one man with a disfigurement and gentle hangdog attitude — quite apart from the cocky boys on the make who typically approach her — and starts to wonder about his life. She feels empathy. And she spares him. At the point where she starts to take an emotional and intellectual interest in our world she becomes less effective as a predator, until she finally stumbles into a very bad situation that results in the immolation we see in the film's final scene. Presumably the guy on the bike will be along soon enough to collect her ashes and deploy the next, temporary, soldier in what seems to be an ongoing series.

My experience of the film would not have been improved by exposition revealing that she was an alien from planet Mongo, or a malevolent emissary from the next dimension, or a time-traveler. That's all interchangeable, penny-ante stuff. When the pictures are this evocative, I can make up my own backstory if I need to. What's important about the film is the character arc I described above coupled with Glazer's impressive visual sense — images like the Kubrickian abstracts of the opening shots, which suggest planets in a solar system as much as they do elements in a camera lens, the wisps of human skin floating in the void, that baby abandoned on the beach, the alien unmasked and tearing off its skin in the woods at the very end. Those are images I will never forget, and they're made haunting by the surrounding, pessimistic story of a cold and malevolent presence in our world who learns slowly to love, or at least to feel, only to have that emerging sensitivity open up a new vulnerability to exploitation, sadism, and violence.

If the value of Under the Skin is tied up mainly in how it communicates visually, rather than in traditional narrative, that kind of thing just doesn't appeal to a lot of viewers. (Thus the film's art-house status.) But I think the key scene at the center of the film featuring her conversation — really the only real conversation that takes place in the movie — with the character played by Ron Pearson (previously) is amazing by any measure and gives the film's images the emotional resonance they need.
posted by Mothlight at 7:25 AM on July 19, 2014 [15 favorites]


I thought this was an awful film but at the same time it was incredibly hypnotic, and I am glad to have seen it. The soundtrack was excellent, too.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:15 PM on July 20, 2014


I love it until the last act, which I think is kind of a disaster.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:26 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'll expand on that: This whole Little Mermaid thing where she becomes a Real Girl and dies because love makes her vulnerable or something is just very trite and would be bad in any movie, but is astonishing in this one, which for an hour seems well above such things. The first two acts of the movie deserve so much better. I was very disappointed in the ending, but I love the first hour so much I know I'll see it again, and maybe the second time it'll work. I hope so.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:30 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the last act didn't make any sense to me (it felt arbitrary) until I started to think about how the film dialogues with the concept of human predation upon humans.

Like, there's this routine established with each of the men that she lures back to her minimalist abstract dungeon thing that is reversed in the last third of the film-- the whole scene where she almost (without really knowing what's going on) has sex has her uncertain, carried across water, led into penetrating darkness for an encounter, etc.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:49 PM on July 21, 2014


Oh, I get it, I just...don't think it's that interesting. The first hour of the film seems to give us a character who's genuinely alien, and I found that fascinating; but the last act seems to imply that what read (at least to me) as inhuman and scientifically curious was really just naive, which is disappointing. Around the time she's watching TV with the young Billy Connolly-looking dude, I started saying to my screen, "Lame. This is lame. Where did the good movie go?" and never really stopped.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:16 PM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Truck Simulator 3000: Scarlett Johansson Edition

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this movie. It contains the single most distributing scene I can remember: leaving an 18 month old alone on a beach, to which I had a visceral reaction unlike any other.

The cinematography was really very nice, I thought. I didn't really get much out of the motivations though, and it felt pretty empty and self-conscious at times. I'll probably try out the book.
posted by odinsdream at 5:41 PM on August 11, 2014


Oh yeah, I couldn't stomach that scene with the kid on the beach, and then the radio that she's listening to in the car later made a point of going Also disappeared is the child who is exactly the same age as shakespeherian's son, so I hope he wasn't planning on sleeping tonight
posted by shakespeherian at 8:30 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]




Well, I went into the theater with high expectations, given the fantastic trailer and my love and admiration for the director's previous movie, Birth - which has all the richness, grace, and emotional/tonal ambition I was hoping to see in Under the Skin.

I found it almost impossible to believe the same director made both movies. Not because of the massive stylistic or budget differences (I love stylized experimental art, so I'd never be in the "it was slow and weird and boring" camp of haters) but because of the lack of grace.

I am totally behind the idea of art made with the intention of creating real audience discomfort for a narrative or philosophical purpose. I've made some of it myself. But you EARN THAT SHIT, with grace, relevance, intent, sense of scale, and not defaulting to shock value for its own sake.

Too much of Under the Skin was the gross-motor unearned flavor of inflicting discomfort.

--- DISTURBING SPOILERS (not that I recommend seeing the movie) ---

Particularly the scene with the baby and then the clumsy radio announcement about it that serves no purpose other than to say "Fuck you, viewer - just in case you were hoping the baby was found by someone, rather than spending the last couple days of his life screaming in terror for the parents who died in front of him and then eventually dying of dehydration himself, you're wrong."

For me, Birth is unforgettable for the right reasons and Under the Skin is unforgettable for the wrong reasons. I'm curious how I'll relate to Birth now - I'll watch Birth again and see.

And I'm extremely curious what Glazer's next move will be. Have not written him off... but I don't remember ever having been so disappointed in a theater.
posted by kalapierson at 9:56 PM on August 18, 2014


Was faintly surprised this was passed over at the Oscars... but probably a bit too extreme for The Academy
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:56 AM on January 17, 2015


"Why is she undressing a dead woman in the beginning, wouldn't she dissolve her like the men?"

Well, that part at least made sense to me. The men going under happened in all-black settings. Her undressing the dead woman and then putting on her belongings happened in a stark white setting, so I took it as a totally different thing. Specifically, I felt that was the movie's way of saying, "This creature is putting on a woman suit and this is going to be about what it's like to be a woman" (with the benefit of hindsight, of course).
posted by komara at 9:47 PM on June 14, 2015


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