Under the Skin

Directed By: Jonathan Glazer

Starring: Scarlett Johansson

It's been quite a while since we've had a weird one at the indie box office.  There was no movie like Holy Motors or The Paperboy in 2013 to leave me utterly baffled by what transpired on the big screen.  Thus far, I can mostly say the same thing about 2014.  No filmmaker has tested the limits of moviegoers' tolerance for the bizarre or disgusting this year.  One movie this spring comes close to doing so, however.  That's Jonathan Glazer's science fiction film Under the Skin.  It's a pretty strange cinematic experience.

An alien (Scarlett Johansson) takes the carcass of a young attractive woman and steals her clothing.  Afterward, the alien gets in a pick-up van.  Driving around Scotland, she seduces the men of the country.  Each time she reels in a male with the prospect of sex, she brings them to her home away from home.  She strips her clothes, and the naked alien begins walking backward throughout the room.  The horny man of the hour strips his clothes and follows her.  There's just one problem for that man.  He can't walk on top of the pool of black liquid as the alien does.  Once each man is fully immersed in this pool, the alien harvests his flesh.  This pattern continues relentlessly until the alien encounters a disfigured man.  Meanwhile, another alien posing as a motorcyclist is monitoring the primary alien.

People will be debating the purpose of a movie like Under the Skin for years to come.  Though I'm sure none of us mind Scarlett Johansson roaming around Scotland seducing men, this one leaves a little bit too much room for interpretation.  The plot is barely coherent.  There's no rhyme or reason for which the alien's activities are justified.  Most notably, there's no explanation for why aliens are targeting Scotland in particular.  All in all, Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin is a very strange film that undoubtedly gets under my skin, but not in a good way.

With countless metaphors, there are plenty of possible messages baked into Glazer's sci-fi indie.  One could make the case that the film is offering commentary on women who defy societal archetypes — social and professional alike — and what it takes to endure their struggles.  Aside from the dead girl at the beginning of the film, Johansson's alien is the only female to be seen in the movie.  Otherwise, she's left to the cold harsh world of men.  Alternatively, the film could be serving up commentary on rape culture and how easily a man can succumb to his natural instincts.  After all, what man in his right mind wouldn't help a helpless alien who looks like Scarlett Johansson?  Lastly, one could argue that this is a movie about life itself.  For her part as the alien, Johansson does give a rather curious performance.  She explores the world.  She explores her body.  She explores the surprisingly horrible taste of human food like chocolate cake.  Likewise, the film could be exploring life.

Clearly, I have a lot of theories about this movie, and there are countless more out there from others.  The fact that there are so many disparate theories about what this movie actually is speaks volumes about the notion that Under the Skin is far too open-ended with no real meaning or purpose.  Forget the fact that Scarlett Johansson is the star of the movie.  Forget the dreamy, foggy visuals akin to The Twilight Zone.  Forget the pounding score reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.  Without any of this, we're left with nothing but a bunch of theories, and I just can't endorse a movie like this.  Under the Skin gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a few rounds of Scotch with this one.