I still utilize the physical media version of Netlflix. As someone who’s been a long fan of the “shuffle” feature on iTunes and Spotify, I’ve always loved the idea of having something come up next in a queue and being pleasantly surprised by the selection. My queue on streaming Netflix is already incredibly daunting and selecting a film is a chore, but at least there’s an immediacy to it. I can make a selection and watch it right now. So when it comes to films and shows that aren’t on the service, it’s hard to remember which films were recommended to me, which ones I need to watch, which ones I’ve been meaning to catch, which trailers I’ve seen on older DVDs that I’m interested in. So I add them to my queue on DVD.com and wait patiently. When a new pouch shows up in the post, it’s a treat not remembering what I have on deck.
This time around was Under the Skin, the Jonathan Glazer film from 2013 starring Scarlett Johansson.
There’s a brilliant sheen around the entire film which is almost entirely stripped of almost all dialogue, relying mostly on our human behavior to direct the interactions forward. Watching the film in a foreign language would translate exactly the same in its theme and intent. From the dense and claustrophobic populous of Glasgow to the sparse desolation of the Scottish coast, these locales speak a madness all their own. They both have a beauty and a harshness all their own.
Johansson plays a nameless visitor, collecting male bodies in a black liquid goop, much like a venus fly trap. She attracts them with a tacit promise of sex, coaxing them into her den where they get swallowed up in the liquid black abyss, sinking while enchanted by lust. While what we’re watching is a literal undertow of these males in heat, there’s a wonderful metaphor at play. Repeatedly, we watch the ones who get swallowed into her trap stroke their own ego madly, only to have their libido braid itself into Johansson’s lure, all the while being gulped step by step as they disappear into a mass that withers them.
We do get a look inside the pit, which, theme and commentary aside, is one of the most incredible, stunning moments in the film, all in all. One of my favorite elements of film and storytelling as a whole is the concept of allowing our imagination to write tapestries within giant gaps. When a scene cuts, when a director leaves us looming, when an editor steals seconds away before an obvious climax, that’s where I find artistry and sheer brilliance. I think this is a film that could have been served very well by not explaining, not showing the aspect of what lies beneath, what this pool actually was. Stepping one step further and explicitly examining its insides was a bold choice by Glazer which paid off in spades. The scene is both horrifying and gorgeous.
Throughout the film, we see her motivation to seek out men who are lone wolves, men who exist on the outskirts, and primarily those that won’t be missed. She displays no moral code, no regret at any turn. Her sense of remorse is nil. A sense of it is awakened down the line, and this shakes her entire modus operandi to the core. At this point, the film takes a strong turn and we watch a rush of questions and doubt engage the plot. Events and interactions become more singular. We watch vulnerability become a suffocating antagonist. Sent into a spiral of contradiction, her mission now becomes a conflict with her revelation.
Directly in the beginning of this film, presumably we watch this visitor, Scarlett Johansson, get built or born from point zero. We hear language being introduced uncomfortably as sounds and pronunciations. We watch her build from a pinprick, a galactic experience of birth that doesn’t quite give us a human, but distinctly yields an iris. We watch a husk of an identical build get stripped of its clothing and become a new model. Was this rebirth a result of a previous model’s failure? Is this breed’s existence within humanity going to consistently yield a peek into what makes us weak? Is the harshness of its nature going to forever clash with what makes us thrive?
Granted, I was a few years behind on this film and I’m sure there has been countless looks at this one as a study in our human behavior. Countless observations of its parallels that expose our violence and predatory nature in the hunt for sex. I’m glad that I finally got a chance to watch it. One of the most visually impressive films I’ve watched this year, and one that told its story without over explaining its thesis. This visitor could have found love and had a life with a man with too much verbiage explaining how and why this works. We could have seen a mother ship or a home base, something that went too far in examining the background of the being herself or her handlers. The pragmatic exposition is perfect, showing us exactly the journey that we needed to see for this unit’s cycle. This film is a brilliant examination of our base desires and how easily they can become fractured, and how once out from under darkness we flounder in the light.