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Under the Skin

That this publication does not use a “star” rating system for reviews is a fact for which I have never been more grateful than when faced with discussing Under the Skin. If I had to rate in on a scale of one to five, I would rate it green. Or perhaps radishes. That’s how off the scale it is.

To put it another way, the only possible succinct answer to the question “What is it about?” would be, “It’s about 100 minutes.”

If you own copies of Liquid Sky, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Girl on a Motorcycle, The Brown Bunny, and/or The Man Who Fell to Earth, you will probably want to see this movie, even though it’s not quite like any of those.

(There are some of you out there—not many, but some—who, reading the above, have already decided to see this movie. I salute you and advise you not to waste your time reading any further.)

The official plot description says, “An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.” Having seen the film, I can’t verify that all of that is true, but it’s as good a place to start as any. An opening sequence involving a lunar eclipse and a closeup of human eyeballs does not disprove that what follows are the experiences of an alien visitor.

As the presumed/purported alien, Scarlett Johansson drives around Scotland in a van, picking up hitchhikers and chatting with them. For the most part these are non-actors who weren’t told that they were in a movie until afterwards. This explains why they all have such incomprehensible accents.

What she does with them I won’t try to explain other than to say that it’s fascinating to look at and wholly non-real. Is it a visual metaphor for sex and murder? Sure, why not. Is she harvesting them? Could be.

On the other hand, it also could be that she’s not an alien at all (despite an ending that seems to confirm this.) We may just be seeing a commentary on the experience of being a woman using the metaphor of an alien visitor.

I’ve read a fair amount of commentary on Under the Skin and come across widely divergent opinions, none of which seem adequate to explain it. Watching a film with so many plausible but contradictory interpretations may not be something you want to tackle. The director is Jonathan Glazer, taking a quantum leap past his previous films Sexy Beast and Birth. Whatever you think of it, you have to admit that he has made a movie like nothing else you’ll see in theaters this year.

Watch the trailer for Under the Skin

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