Under the Skin Is Alluring, Creepy, and Great

<i>Under the Skin</i> Is Alluring, Creepy, and Great
A24 Films
Johansson: Dreaming.

The promise of seeing Scarlett Johansson fully nude is probably enough to lure lots of people into Jonathan Glazer's alien-among-us fantasy Under the Skin, and the vision doesn't disappoint: Her figure, seen in long shot, is a grand and glowing thing; she has one of those butts shaped, adorably, like an upside-down heart. But her nakedness is the opposite of a sleazy thrill. As Glazer presents it to us, an Eadweard Muybridge nude miraculously come to life, it's so unadorned and purely human that it's entrancing on a whole other level. That Johansson's character is not human at all only adds to the pathos — and the terror — of it all. She is, as we learn early on, a killer from another world masquerading in womankind's touch-me skin. In her nakedness, she hides everything and nothing; she's treachery and softness rolled into one.

Most of the men are nonactors, unaware they're being chatted up by a bona fide movie star.

You could say the same of Under the Skin itself, a science-fiction rhapsody laced with thorns. Adapted — though maybe "morphed" is a better word — from Michael Faber's 2000 novel of the same name, this is the story of a girl who fell to Earth, or who was, perhaps, put here to do a job. The exact motivation of Johansson's character is never made clear, though she seems to be harvesting male flesh for either herself or her race. Really, very little in Under the Skin is clear at all. Its secrets unspool in mysterious, supple ribbons, but that's part of its allure and its great beauty. This picture is often mesmerizing and sometimes almost unforgivably cruel: The image of an infant crying on a cold, savage beach appears onscreen for just a few seconds, though it takes much longer to shake it off. But if Glazer is only just resurfacing with his first movie in ten years (the last was the 2004 arty-elegant reincarnation romance Birth), at least he's coming back with a great one. Along with his actors, cinematographer Daniel Landin, and composer Mica Levi, he's made a work of quiet audaciousness, half-soothing, half-jolting. This is a dream-state movie that's always fully awake and alive.

Johansson's character has no name, and though she speaks in a reasonably proper English accent, she seems to have come from nowhere. This enigmatic creature, with her short crop of dark curls and mischievous half-moon of a smile, drives around Scotland's bramble-gray countryside and its chattery, bustling cities, using her sexual magnetism to lure men to their doom. She wears everyday mall clothes — skinny jeans, a faux-fur jacket — and banters casually with her marks to determine how much they'll be missed by anyone at home or if they'll be missed at all. They're all regular guys, sporting jerseys of their favorite football teams, some of them rabbiting on in such thick Scots that they may as well be speaking the language of another planet. Our alien beauty leans in close to hear what they're saying, to determine if they'll suit her purposes. Some of them immediately remark on how pretty she is; others seem to avoid even looking at her before stumbling to tell her they find her attractive.

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Location Info

Map

Regal South Beach Stadium 18

1120 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: South Beach

Details

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Pearson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, and Dougie McConnell. Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Written by Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell. Based on a novel by Michael Faber. 108 minutes. Rated R. Opens Friday, April 18, at Regal South Beach Stadium 18.

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What Johansson is working here is "glamour" in the original and ancient sense of the word, not the Hollywood one, a point brought home by Glazer's working methods. Most, though not all, of the men in the film are nonactors, unaware they're being chatted up by a bona fide movie star, the proceedings captured by a small hidden camera. On the surface, at least, it's an approach that invites some moral queasiness: Even though all of these "performers" were clued in after the fact and signed the required release forms, it doesn't seem right to make human beings the unwitting pawns of movie artistry. But I think the way Glazer uses these performers is ultimately respectful. We're on their side — we can't blame them for falling for this not-quite-Scarlett Johansson, because we've fallen too. Watching them respond to alien Scarlett is fascinating; some of them are so shy, they seem reluctant to look at her directly. But watching her coax them into her net is the real wonder here. When she's being observed only by us, the character's stare is simultaneously hungry and blank. When she's working her wiles, her eyes are bright and reflective: "I'm far more interested in you than I am in myself," they seem to say, and weirdly, tragically (for the alien's quarry), she's not even lying.

There are dozens of mysteries in Under the Skin that don't cohere in any logical way but work like gangbusters on the imaginative subconscious. Where, exactly, does alien Scarlett lead her victims? Who knows? But we do see them, following her lead, stripping themselves naked as they stride deeper and deeper into a pool of what looks like inky black oil. They sink, while she pads across the surface with a panther's muscular grace. What happens to them after that is the stuff of Francis Bacon paintings, a loss of self that Glazer captures with disturbingly hypnotic imagery. And Levi's score is a small, weird miracle in itself. The opening sequence, in which an orb of light is used as a kind of visual shorthand to fill us in on some otherwise incomprehensible alien backstory, is accompanied by a chorus of anxious violins like 1,000 obsessive crickets. This is the music of unease, the sound our neurons might make if we could listen in on their workday.

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5 comments
Joseph Mazon
Joseph Mazon

I don't want to see Scarlett nude, unless she's coming up and out of my marble hot tub, whatever happened to imagination? anticipation? Why cheapen the experience?

Teresa Neira
Teresa Neira

Erick this is the movie I was telling you about

Shareef Habib
Shareef Habib

sooo theres no where showing this but thats cool

 

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