‘Under The Skin’ reveals Earth as an alien planet. To be honest it always feels like that to me but this film at first looks like science fiction eye candy… yet it isn’t. I don’t even really think it has much to do with an alien but rather a comment on the human race and what it is to be the 'other'. Why on earth would an alien choose the body of a female to inhabit to observe humans, mostly men, in this film? But then you realise this works, to a point.
The film starts with a very beautiful Scarlet Johansson, the alien, taking the clothes from a dead human woman, there’s little explanation for why she’s dead, it’s more a shot of white and black disguise, though the alien doesn’t really need it with an outer skin of female. Are women aliens on their own planet then? There is an erotic oddity and grim reality about the first half that (to me) looks like a comment on misogyny. A woman in a white van, driving along and cat calling men, asking them to get in her van, though her language is nowhere near the level of your average white van man’s, it looks like a kind of gender reversal, or at least an attempt at that.
The men get in the van with her, they appear stupid and vulnerable, and dare we say ‘they asked for it’. She uses her femininity as a weapon, lures them into thinking they will have sex with her, hypnotises them and takes her victims into a big cavernous black tar like substance that melts them. How many of us women have wanted to do this after being curb crawled or cat called? ‘She’ or it walks away from a crying baby on a beach as the tide is coming in, again a challenge of normal expectations of femininity and nurturing instinct. At this point she seems a woman, demonised, and not an alien.
There’s a point in the film where she is given roses and she bleeds from her palms like stigmata, hinting for me the end, her sacrifice for humanity, or the burning times. Again for me this is so tied in with femininity and of course, the burning of witches. The blurred lines of spirituality, science fiction, paranormal phenomenon and the suppression of the feminine divine, all of which try to do this very same thing. ‘Under The Skin’ had many layers for me on watching, the fickleness, mean and selfish aspects of the human race and the submission of the female in her strength, her fall always being patriarchy. This is for me where the film becomes despairing. The man on the motorbike is like a puppeteer pulling her strings, he gives her the female form and her encounter with him leaves her submissive, falling in the streets of Glasgow, humiliated and vulnerable, basically human or in context, a woman.
This is where I always want aliens to stay alien, circa ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. For me it’s like an arrogance to believe intelligent beings would really fall foul to our weaknesses if they landed here. She (because we can’t see beyond her female form by this point) starts to feel sorry for imperfection, to empathise, all portrayed in the face of a deformed man she picks up. This was a major fail for me as an alien would not see deformity, surely all humans would measure equal even with proteus syndrome? She takes him to her lair and lets him go! This was the film's only failure for me. She can walk away from a human baby but a deformed man that 'has never touched a woman'' brings out her human-ness. After staring in a mirror for a while, she gets on a bus and goes back with a older man to have real sex, then freaks out at having a vagina. Again I thought of Bowie and aliens, holes and Andy Warhol. There were holes in the latter half of the plot for me, as if it was trying to compensate for the male gaze having been challenged in the first half of the film.
It ends up in a forest, rambling and with an attempted rape and the flames of what? A disappointing ending but perhaps it's the grim reality of challenging misogyny. Where’s the motorbike man? He turned a blind eye of course.
This film is food for thought and I’m sure many would watch it and see something different. The soundtrack is rather lovely and creepy too. It's a mixed bag but overall I liked it.