Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Under the Skin": The UK from a female extraterrestrial's point of view; recalling "Death Watch"

Under the Skin” (2013, Jonathan Glazer, UK, 108 minutes, rated “R, based on a novel by Michel Faber), as a movie title, is a metaphor indeed, and it may  well apply to lead Scarlet Johansson’s character as the “Seductress”, particularly at the film’s denouement.  Perhaps there is a racial image, too, but what came to my mind was the 1980 series “V”, where the aliens look like insects underneath. But why couldn’t an alien really look and act like just like us, and be lovable, maybe with some extra “powers”, like Smallville’s teen Clark Kent.  People say that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg must be an alien, and that programming skills gave him world conquest. Maybe an angel would seem like an alien to us.  Or maybe he or she could just be stronger and live longer, like in NBC’s “The Event”. But this film is no “Friday’s Aliens”.
The film starts with some bizarre abstract images with neutron stars and gamma rays, and cagy chamber music by Mica Levi, with themes that come from Karol Szymanowski and Eduard Tubin.  The film gradually steers us to landscapes in northern Scotland, and we see Seductress picking up her first hitchhiker.
Now there is a progression in outcomes for each “victim”, which helps give the story a plot.  The first man is led to her rural apartment. As he disrobes, we see an almost perfect young adult male, with hairy arms and shaggy legs but a hairless chest, almost suggesting he’s still a budding teenager.  He’s invited to approach and wades into liquid.  That’s an image from the “nighthikes” in my own screenplays, to be discussed in more detail soon on another blog.  He seems to dissolve.

  There is a family by the coast, where the man drowns and leaves a crying baby alone, abandoned.  She doesn’t care.  She then goes to Glasgow, to a lively disco (well filmed), and picks up a slender man, and brings him back.  He seems to have the “right amount of hair on his chest” to survive a while.  Underwater we see transformations and regressions to earlier forms of man, and then into alien jellyfish.  And “it’s free”. 
The next “victim” will have neurofibromatosis (that is, the disease from David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man”), and we wonder if he could be an earlier victim, transformed. Seductress is quite kind to him, playing down human society's obsession with lookism.   At this point, the outcomes start to vary and lead the movie forward.

Film4 offers a 20-minute supplementary short “Keeping It Alien”.

Glazer says that the movie presents the alien’s viewpoint.

The official site is here.

The film is distributed by A24, which seems to aim for the young adult audience, but was produced with Film4.  How will the UK Lottery and all that fare if Scotland breaks away this year?  I’d rather see it stay part of the UK and get paid off.  The film also is said to have taken ten years to make, and at one point Brad Pitt was almost cast.

After the disjointed hypermodern chamber music, by the end credits time I was ready for something like "Crash" from "Judas Kiss" (itself sic-fi).  It ddin't quite come out, but I was waiting for it.

I saw the film before a small crowd Saturday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA. 
Let me mention another classic Scottish film for comparison, "Death Watch" (1979), by Bertrand Tavernier, where a young man has a camera planted in his eye to follow a terminally ill woman.  It was also filmed in Glasgow, which I would visit myself in Nov. 1982. I saw that at the Inwood Theater on Lovers Lane in Dallas, Tx and was blown away by it!  Here's a synopsis.  
SpaceRip has today’s short film, “Was Mars Earth-Like?” about NSAS’s Maven (link).  It’s clear that if a planet doesn’t have a strong magnetic field of its own, it’s much more vulnerable to atmosphere loss over time. 

Just remember, "In Heaven, everything is fine."

Wikipedia attribution link for Glasgow picture. Second picture, mine, near Sugarloaf, MD.  

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