Under the Skin is Jonathan Glazer’s haunting new film based on Michael Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name. Both stories follow a human-disguised alien’s mission to lure unsuspecting men and harvest them for meat. Without the book however, I’m not sure these details would be self-evident in the movie. The film’s cryptic nature could lead one to believe (at least initially) Scarlet Johansson’s unnamed character to be merely a deranged criminal, murdering lone men for reasons unknown.
Given the pervasive ambiguity, the film’s message is widely open to interpretation. What I’ve derived, however, is that this is a film about resocialization, about questioning what you’ve been raised to believe in order to define your own value system; about separating yourself from whatever group, culture, or country (or planet) you’ve pledged allegiance to in order to become a true individual, rather than mindlessly following the herd.
What is this interpretation based on? Scarlet Johansson’s character kidnaps and obliterates men, actions which are monitored and enforced by a nameless motorcyclist. Eventually, her character begins to question what she’s doing and runs away—in what I would say is a quest for self discovery.
My friends and I started a culture podcast series called Vox44.* In the first episode, Matthew Treon, Adrian Sobol and I dissect Under the Skin and debate whether or not it sheds light on the human condition or is merely an empty exercise. Regardless of the answer, we agree that the film is haunting and compelling enough to warrant at least one viewing. Listen to the podcast here.
*The podcast resides at my friend’s culture blog, Vannevar 44, to which I’ve contributed the essays “Wouldn’t You Like to Get Away: Cheers to Despair” and “Don Jon and the Right Way to Have Sex.”