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Under the Skin

October 23, 2014

Under the Skin (2014)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Adam Pearson

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Synopsis: In Scotland, a young woman (Scarlett Johansson), cruises the streets in a white van, seeking to lure men back to her property for nefarious reasons…

Review: I usually chastise filmmakers overly immersed in the aesthetics of their piece, and Under the Skin is a film that’s all about aesthetic – but vitally so – and what aesthetic at that! For it’s a film that’s entirely subsumed in the senses, in the art of looking, of seeing and feeling things as if for the first time – the privileging of the tactile and the intuitive over the explanatory.

What Jonathan Glazer does especially well is in taking a canvas that in some respects is familiar enough – Glasgow and Scotland (the city centre, the tower blocks, the council estates, the Highlands, the lochs, the forests) – and makes it utterly beautiful, sensual and otherworldly (befitting the narrative context, clearly).

It’s a film that almost belies any attempt to condense or ‘understand’ it. For sure, there are numerous asides and sub-readings one can make. I took it as a very ‘gallows’ satire of male sexuality – how plenty of men would happily get in a car with a pretty girl, no matter how vacant she may seem, for the promise of a leg-over (documented ironically with these men, erect phalluses and all, walking hypnotically to their death knell). There’s undoubtedly meta-textual mileage in the juxtaposition of a Hollywood starlet and the blue-collar Glasgow milieu (Johannson’s van drives through Celtic fans marching to Celtic Park at one point), and was it me, or were the abstractly haunting death scenes uncannily similar to the black and white-hued abysses of Lady Washizu in Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood?

In short, it’s an immense piece of pure cinema – with Glazer seeking to use the medium to transcend rather than to reduce, and in doing so, he’s created one of the most artful and memorable British films for many a year. (October 2014)

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