Under the Skin is a science fiction thriller following a mysterious woman, deftly brought to life by Scarlett Johannson, as she drives around Scotland seducing lonely men. It doesn’t sound like much, but the filmmaking behind this synopsis is really quite visionary.
Jonathan Glazer, the film’s writer and director creates a surreal and vibrant collection of images which conceals the truth regarding identity and motivation from the audience completely. Under the Skin is presented in an documentary style way allowing Glazer to tell a somewhat extraordinary story about the extra-terrestrial with an abundance of piercing frequencies and uneasy camera shots.
The film’s plot and narration comes with a harsh and an astonishingly inhuman perspective of scenes containing fairly distressing images, that’s intent becomes clearer as the story progresses. These film shows death and abandonment from an unsentimental viewpoint and that just within the first thirty minutes. Many of the dramatic sequences are conveyed with minimal sensitivity resonating with Johansson’s character. The images come complete with odd noise reflective of the sci-fi genre.
Though released as a Hollywood film with an well known actress such as Scarlett Johansson, the camera and the style commits much more closely to the conventions of an art house picture. The main character has no name. A choice that can be interpreted in many ways, giving most influence up to the audience. Why does she have no name? Are we not supposed to feel connected to our main character? Disassociating the audience with the character in this manner allows an omniscient perspective of the terrible and traumatic events occurring throughout the film.
The film delivers very little in terms of dialogue and even less in terms of explanation. Instead, lingering shots focus on the characters, their actions and expressions. It is because of this, the audience must construct and follow the narrative almost completely alone. It may be considered difficult to comprehend the story due to the evident lack of conversation. The film is equipped with a whispering beauty and haunting brilliance that brings Glazer’s view of the modern world into light through the most exquisite of circumstances.
Discomfort. Discomfort was key. The hardhitting scenes, carried out in such a heartless manner caused the uneasy feeling in the viewers. It seemed that this discomfort made for a more dramatic development in both plot and character. Whilst at the beginning, it was near impossible to identify with Johansson’s callous on screen persona, the progression of the story brought to light human aspects of the character making her more relatable. The shift in emotion was gradual but sudden and dramatic all at once. It will no doubt be a film that will be analysed for many years to come while it continues to offer a powerful statement about the way beauty is perceived in today’s society. It’s unique. It’s visionary. It’s a quiet masterpiece.