Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Your skin is dripping with subtext...


I’m just going to be honest with everyone for a minute.  If I was walking alone on a road in the dead of night and a white van that looked suspiciously like the ones child molesters and rapists drive pulled up alongside me and it was revealed that Scarlett Johansson was behind the wheel, dressed like a prostitute, and she began to inquire about my home life, where I was from, if I lived with anyone (that sort of thing) and then she offered me a lift and we wound up back at her place, I would pretty much know that I was about to die and yet I would still readily walk inside, take off all my clothes, and strut my stuff.

It’s Scarlett Johansson.  You don’t say no; ever.

All joking aside, the above paragraph is pretty much what happens for the first half of this film and yet for some reason it still works in a way that completely entranced me and has me thinking that I’ve finally seen the first REAL masterpiece of 2014.



This has been a long time coming for me.  There were so many things riding on the success of this film, at least for this film lover.  First, you had the return of Jonathon Glazer.  The man has produced two films since his debut, ‘Sexy Beast’, in 2001, and while I don’t think that ‘Birth’ (his sophomore film) was the outstanding masterpiece everyone calls it, the atmosphere he created and honest potential he displayed was undeniable.  I’ve been craving more from him for TEN YEARS and yet he merely teased us with this film for the last two years, promising it to us and yet withholding it until now.  Second was the inevitable return of Scarlett Johansson to the good graces of the cinephile community.  I love this girl, and back in 2003 I christened her the best new thing to happen to cinema.  Then she became a sex symbol and the world forgot she could act.  She’s been steadily proving her chops over the past two years, and this panicle of awesomeness has finally pushed her back over the edge.


You can’t deny her talent any longer.

But, above all else, I just really wanted ‘Under the Skin’ to be a great movie.  Isn’t that the most we can ask of any film; to be good?  I have not read the novel, although it’s been on my shelf since 2011, when I first heard that this film was in the making, but I have heard nothing but stellar things for it.  In fact, I’ve heard that the novel was such a defining moment in the genre that many fans were afraid it was unfilmable. 

It appears that Glazer doesn’t know what that means.

I think the first thing to understand about ‘Under the Skin’ going in is that the film kind of defies formulaic plot structure.  It isn’t a linier story in the sense that you may expect.  It does have a clear beginning and end, but the middle kind of goes in and out of a direct storyline, and rightfully so.  The film’s clear intent on developing a dreamy, otherworldly atmosphere, is key to the development of the themes presented, and without them this would have fallen into the genre traps the keep so many other films grounded in a place of mediocrity.  Instead, Glazer flips us all the bird and constructs something that feels like David Lynch attempting to make a Terrence Malick film.  It is stunning to look at, independent of dialog (as in, it doesn’t need it even though it has some), richly spiritual and absolutely insane.


To sit here and try and uncover all of the tasty tidbits produced by this film would take all day and be somewhat counterproductive, since so much of the understanding and appreciation of the film comes from that subjective light that we as cinephiles call our opinions, but I wanted to express one aspect of the film that I found to be a beacon shining over what were by expectations.

‘Under the Skin’ says a lot about human nature without ever once telling us a thing about it, if that makes sense.  Instead of resorting to those James Cameron force-fed clichés of ‘HUMANS RUIN EVERYTHING SO ALIENS MUST INTERVENE’, Glazer allows the visual identity of his film to tell his story for him.  In the development of character in his protagonist (antagonist?), the seductive alien (no one in this film has a name), we see a creature with a purpose who acts like a machine, without sympathy or any real emotion whatsoever, who is betrayed by her own mission when she starts to observe the people around her and become transfixed by the potential for good in humans.  It is through this observance that her guard is weakened and she is won over by her prey and eventually disregards her own journey for another path entirely, only to find out that nothing is black and white. 


The finale is a jarring look at how we can condemn ourselves through an act of ignorance.

This year has been so rich with films that develop complex themes through a subtle air and craft such through provoking tales that leave us all grasping for different answers, showing how important and how impactful film (and storytelling) can be.  ‘Enemy’, ‘Noah’, ‘Under the Skin’; three vastly different films with VERY different stories that all prove that less is more and nothing is what it seems.


People will be talking about this movie for years to come, and rightfully so.

This would be me, and I wouldn't care...
I readily give this an A+.  I have seen nothing like this, and I mean nothing, and I just can't shake the feeling that this is a film that surpasses what we know of cinema.  It is more that cinema.  This is something we can't quite understand, yet.

13 comments:

  1. I just saw this film at Tiff and I can agree it was incredible. I had no idea what to expect and I think this might be one of those movies you have to watch three or four times before you get any kind of understanding but it's still amazing. The one thing I'm curious about, though, is how they went about writing the script if nobody has a name. The IMDB cast doesn't even give anyone a title to be identified by.

    That said, Scarlett Johansson is incredible as the alien and just the mix of qualities that she conveys. One the one hand she can make it look like Earth is an environment she has never seen before, and on the other she's more human than any of the humans.

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    1. The film really had no need for names, and I kind of applaud it for lacking them. It added a sense of universal equality to the film. These people could be anyone, and that really was the point.

      Johansson was incredible. I wish that I had explained more my love for her in my review. What she conveys is, in a word, otherworldly.

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  2. "...it still works in a way that completely entranced me and has me thinking that I’ve finally seen the first REAL masterpiece of 2014."

    I couldn't agree more with everything you've said, but especially what you wrote above. It almost feels like necessary viewing with all the worthless summer blockbusters we've had these few months.

    I've read a couple bloggers who praised the movie, but didn't think ScarJo did anything extraordinary with the role since she had little dialogue, which I completely disagree with. I thought she was incredible with every expression conveyed. Great review!

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    1. The scene where ScarJo is looking in the mirror, that moment when things change for her (right before she lets the deformed man go free), is such an intimate and incredibly astute moment. She does so much with a lingering look than MANY actresses can do with an entire film.

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  3. For me, this one of the best films I had seen in years. Scarlett definitely raised her game and more. Especially as it showcased why I loved her in the first place and the fact that she is better than most of her contemporaries. If this part had gone to someone like Jessica Alba or Blake Lively, it wouldn't work because neither of them have the discipline or tenacity to play that kind of role. Plus, they wouldn't do the nudity as they prefer to be cock-teases and no one likes cock-teases. Scar-Jo's time now has come and it's also time to collect some accolades.

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    1. I was blown away by the fearless way ScarJo tackled this role, nudity and all. I'm with you...awards really need to be coming her way soon! I'm still sore that she lost the Volpi Cup last year, when it looked so clear that she was the favorite.

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  4. Great review! I see this comes out on Netflix on 7/15, so hopefully I can get it right away.

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    1. Put it as your #1 as soon as you can (you should be able to throw it up there now) that way it'll get to you faster. I don't think the wait for this one will be too long, considering how art house it is.

      But then again...Scarlett is naked quite often.

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  5. It's interesting how you read her reason to change, I did see differently, but then again I may be watching it through the book way of things. I thought it was very good but much weaker in their efforts to show her trying to find her place, from the scene where she drives off and meets that new guy who takes care of her it just went downhill for me. But Scarlett was mesmerizing and the film was unique for sure.

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    1. I really want to read the book. I'm wondering if that would color my perception and even acceptance of the film. That has happened before for me, especially when I love a book so much.

      Scarlett was a revelation here, though.

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  6. YAY! I skimmed your review for now, but I'll watch this soon and come back here ASAP. :)

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    1. Yes, do! I can't wait to see what your thoughts are!

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    2. Watched this a few days ago, and I loved it! As I was watching it, I kept thinking it would make a great double feature with Holy Motors. Needless to say, it's my #1 film of the year so far!

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