Rated R for sexuality, violence, and sexual assault. There's very little dialogue in the movie, but the stuff in it kind of ties into the motifs of sexuality and violence. It's all very dark and haunting. I wouldn't treat the violence like action movie violence, but almost like a category of its own. There is quite a bit of nudity, considering that so little actually happens in the movie. The sexual assault is also very visceral due to the fact that it is on screen. R.
DIRECTOR: Johnathan Glazer
Well, I know that I'm not going to finish this blog in one sitting. I'm over-the-top busy, but I want to maintain this blog because it would stink to get overwhelmed with this. Heck, I already feel bad enough because I watched this film in an extremely disjointed manner. It's just been a crazy time in my life and I miss the days where I had guaranteed running days. It's not like I picked Under the Skin for any reason either. It was my next Netflix DVD movie and it showed up in the mail after I had lost the previous disc in the move from the old house. But none of this matters. I just feel the need to justify my watching of this movie because of its overtly sexual themes.
When I heard about this movie, I thought it was NC-17. It's not. It's definitely not. While the sexuality is intense and consistent, it's not exploitative, or for that manner, all that erotic. If anything, it is denigrated through this lens of horror that makes it seem bleak and sad. To read Under the Skin as a morality play warning about the evils of sex is a misread, but it is closer to that than it is something along the line of Species or anything in that sci-fi / horror subgenre. (Note: This is where I pick up the next day. I got a lot of work done and I'm patting myself on the back right now.) I never got into that erotic horror stuff. Maybe it's because I'm a bit of a stuff shirt and a prude, but those films felt so exploitative. As part of that sexual exploitation, there coincided a lack of quality. But Under the Skin is, by no doubt, a sci-fi horror dependent on sexuality to tell its story, but it isn't bad. I mean, I'm not going to write home about it. Honestly, part of me was super bored. It just doesn't change the fact that there is something obviously quality about the film, even if that isn't something that is always objective or easy to nail down.
The opening shots scream Stanley Kubrick. I don't know if Kubrick would ever go as far as Under the Skin in terms of silence, but who knows? (I mean, there are long periods of silence in Kubrick's film, so I'm already backpedaling on that assertion.) Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Glazer thrives on you not understanding everything in the movie. There simply...is. Now, Kubrick at least gives you something. Besides the fact that the Arthur C. Clarke novel is probably more grounded and has a mythos explaining a lot of the events of the story, Kubrick will at least play ball with what is happening in the story. Instead, Glazer leaves a lot up to interpretation. That actually works in a weird way when it comes to determining themes. Not everything needs to have a coherent and grounded story element for a theme to shine through. If anything, the cryptic plot elements force the audience to question everything that is on screen for the film. After all, themes tend to be lost the more grounded the film is, so this interpretive dance of a film forced me to look more at what I was absorbing versus what I was understanding.
That doesn't mean that I didn't go to the Wikipedia article. I totally did, multiple times. After all, I didn't want to be the only one who didn't get the story and look like a total idiot when it came to writing a blog about the movie. It's there that I discovered that the film, according to Glazer, wasn't what I thought the movie was about. The Female seemed to represent womanhood and how women are only viewed as sexual conquests. The horror of the whole thing, seemed to me, that she was inverting the trope on men a la Promising Young Woman. I mean, The Female actively hunts for men to absorb through sexual conquest, which by-the-bye is terrifying. It's when she shifts out of that sexual conquest that (and again, this is all my read considering that it is my blog) there's a commentary on the poison that sexual conquest is on both parties. When she abuses her role as executioner, preying upon a deformed man, her personality radically changes to that of victim. She becomes this catatonic mess, allowing herself to try to feel normal in what appears to be a twisted version of a consensual relationship, leading to her eventually to her sexual assault.
But Glazer implies that I'm not quite reading that right. He says this is more about the human experience than the gender experience. It's the role of the artist to make a story with themes, but it is the burden of the artist to relinquish those themes to the audience. I don't know how this movie isn't about gender. Masculinity and femininity play such a strong role in the movie. In her rides around Scotland, The Female encounters so many versions of masculinity throughout. Some of these personalities are toxic. Some of them and strong and responsible. Even the one death that she didn't directly cause, the one of a father, is a type of masculinity that is honorable and worthy of attention. But when she has an odd moral compass about partners whom she wishes to absorb, these choices are reacted to with a sense of disappointment. Perhaps we can look at the abandonment of the baby on the beach as a reminder of the perversion of gender. Now, I would be wrong to say that femininity would call upon The Female to act as mother to abandoned infant on the beach. But to leave the child there is almost a scorn for the appropriate behavior.
From a logical perspective, we can view her disregard for positive behavior as understandable. After all, The Female feeds on the perverse. Those who would take advantage of a lost woman who dresses not unlike a sex worker are her food. So when these people have redeemable traits, she doesn't care about the objective good that these people present to society. She is only upset that she cannot feed upon them. It's when she breaks her own rule, preying on the desperate and deformed, that she is perverted to her own code that doesn't actually seem to be her own. That's where the motorcycle guys come in. I am really stymied when it comes to the motorcycle guys. There's an element of pimp to these characters. While she feeds upon men, they seem to be supporting her through cleaning up the environment. After all, they dispose of bodies that are left in her wake. But she fears them when she stops intentionally consuming these men. The final act is The Female running away from these men. There's something horribly hopeless about the final act. While we don't necessarily have a moral protagonist to root for, The Female starts to exhibit hope for evolution.
Perhaps it is in her abandonment of her mission that we see that the possibility of change is real. But Glazer doesn't want to end with any sense of optimism. It is in her new identity, complete with a change of clothes, that she wishes to break out of a system where sex is the driving force. But she quickly falls apart in this system. I know some reads of the film talk about the black entity under the skin (hey, that's the title of the movie!) is a commentary on race and the notion that biologically, mankind has more in common than skin color. I don't really read that. I read that as beauty being something that is cheap and flimsy. It's torn off in the woods. But that true self was quickly burned up in a fire anyway. If you were wondering, Under the Skin says that the world won't let you change.
I will say that the movie does get tedious. There is so little plot for so much movie that I did keep an eye on the clock while watching it. I mean, I told you that I watched it in shifts. Part of that was because I kept falling asleep. It's not a bad movie, but it is painfully boring.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.