As I walked out of the theater after watching Under The Skin (the third feature film from director Jonathan Glazer, who also made Sexy Beast and Birth), I had to remind myself that I am indeed human and live in a society with other people. I had to check my skin to see if it was on tight. I had to eat dumplings and a Twix bar and go see The Other Woman (another review for another time) in order to bring myself back to reality. But as my swirling thoughts sank in I realized how amazing this movie is.
As humans, the instruments through which we process and experience the world are our bodies, the outermost layer being our skin. It seems like so many philosophers, etc. are always talking about how we should leave the body behind and focus on the mind, but really, what makes us human is our physical form. Otherwise we’d be a different species. This idea keeps coming back to me as I think about Under The Skin. Scarlett Johansson’s character (an alien disguised as a human, luring men into her van in cold, foggy Scotland) observes the humans and their environment with a perplexed look on her face. It’s this expression (perplexed doesn’t do the depth of it justice) that impresses me most about her excellent performance. Johansson speaks very few words in the movie, and yet these complex ideas about who we are and what it means to be a person in a body flooded my brain. She examines her human skin in the mirror, stares at the reflection of her face with horror and confusion, feels the touch of a stranger’s hand on her neck.
With such a physical performance in this film, I can’t help but mention Johansson’s completely verbal performance in Her. In both movies she plays characters that are “beyond human,” and makes us observe our own species through the eyes of an outsider. I am blown away by her work in both these movies– one with just her voice, the other with almost exclusively her physical presence.
Under the Skin is a weird movie, to be sure. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen, and it’s probably not what you’re expecting. But I hope that won’t put you off from seeing it. It’s these daring films that challenge us, make us think, and push the boundaries of cinema. Come dream in the dark with us.
See you at the movies,
Under the Skin is now playing at Images Cinema through Thursday May 8. For our full schedule, please visit: www.imagescinema.org