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Now Playing: Under the Skin

Under the Skin
dir: Jonathan Glazer, UK/USA, 2013
Rating: 9.6

The bottom line: You don’t want to wake up, do you?

Now playing at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema in Chicago is Under the Skin, the third and best feature film to date by British writer/director Jonathan Glazer. Based on an acclaimed science-fiction novel by Michel Faber, which I haven’t read but which the filmmakers have apparently taken many liberties in adapting, the end result is an exciting, disturbing, sexy, visually ravishing, thought-provoking and wholly singular filmgoing experience that stands as my favorite movie of the year so far. (While that may not sound like high praise in early April, keep in mind that I’ve already seen what I would consider an unusual number of great or near-great films in 2014 including: The Strange Little Cat, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1, Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian), Journey to the West, Gloria and The Grand Budapest Hotel. While Glazer made his name as a director of music videos and television commercials in the 1990s, his subsequent features Sexy Beast (2000) and Birth (2004), notable for their meticulous attention to detail as well as their flirtation with “big ideas,” have caused some critics to favorably compare him to none other than Stanley Kubrick. Glazer himself appeared to encourage such comparisons by including what seemed like more than a few winking references to the late master’s work in his underrated and misunderstood second feature (critical appraisal of Birth was unfortunately drowned out at the time of its release by a non-controversy involving a scene where Nicole Kidman’s character took a bath with a pre-adolescent boy). Under the Skin both validates the Kubrick comparisons as well as renders them irrelevant: it’s a visionary work of art in its own right that doesn’t look or sound like anything other than a “Jonathan Glazer movie,” and that should be higher praise than comparing it to motion pictures by great directors from the past.

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Perhaps what is most impressive about Under the Skin is the way that Glazer, much more than in his previous movies, tells this story more through the images than the dialogue, rendering what little the characters do say as secondary or unimportant. By contrast, Mica Levi’s brilliant avant-garde score, which mixes metronomic percussion with what sounds like an unnerving loop of a wailing viola, is essential in establishing the film’s unique tone: the ethereal score seamlessly blends with the real-world effects on the soundtrack (it is difficult at times to distinguish music from effects) in order to bring viewers closer to the consciousness of the extraterrestrial protagonist. Under the Skin audaciously follows the exploits of an unnamed alien disguised as a human (the press kit refers to her as “Laura” but no one calls her that in the movie and none of the characters are given names in the closing credits) who arrives on earth — Scotland, to be precise — with the intention of seducing and killing men for vague, nefarious purposes. It is implied that these murders are part of an organ-harvesting scheme although Glazer and co-writer Walter Campbell apparently chose to downplay this aspect of the plot as it originally appeared in the novel — a wise choice in my opinion. Instead, the film sticks uncomfortably close to the sensory impressions of this alien character (Scarlett Johansson, almost unrecognizable in black bangs, fur coat and stonewashed jeans) as she experiences life on an unfamiliar planet. Glazer’s ability to capture the modern world as it might be seen and heard through alien eyes and ears is exhilarating; the early sections of Under the Skin contain a fair number of scenes of her driving around Glasgow in a nondescript white van, trying to pick up lone men on the street. Astonishingly, most of these scenes were shot with hidden cameras — with the male “characters” being unaware that the woman with whom they were interacting was the famous Johansson, who sports a credible English accent, or indeed that they were even appearing in a movie at all (release forms were obtained only after the scenes were shot).

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To give away more of the plot would be a crime but I would like to note that the film’s most tantalizing aspect may be the way in which the alien seems to develop a conscience after she kills a surfer on a rocky beach. This is also, crucially, the only murder that is explicitly shown in the movie. All of the other murders are represented symbolically by showing naked men walking after the scantily clad or nude alien on a pitch-black set and slowly sinking into a pool of inky liquid while she remains on solid ground a few feet in front of them. (This impressive feat of engineering also provides some of the most spectacular visuals of any sci-fi film of recent years.) The alien soon begins to exhibit more human characteristics, from falling down in the street to showing mercy to a potential victim who is facially disfigured to allowing her physical appearance to become increasingly grimy. Glazer’s objective here, I think, is not dissimilar from what Robert Bresson achieved so majestically in Au Hasard Balthazar in 1966. Much like how Bresson had a donkey function as a blank slate upon which the vices of mankind are imprinted, Glazer presents an alien succubus as a kind of crazy-mirror for some of the basest instincts of humanity; it is more than a little sad that so many men seem so eager to jump, for no good reason, into a van being driven by a total stranger — even if that stranger happens to look like Scarlett Johansson. The casting of Johansson, however, is precisely Glazer’s masterstroke. While she may not be a great actress, she is a bona fide movie star for a reason, and never before has she used/allowed her star persona to be used so intelligently as here. Late in the film, the alien is stripped of its human form and stares at the face of Johansson that it has been wearing like a mask, a haunting moment that can be seen as a disturbing commentary on the process of image-making and celebrity. This one brief shot in Under the Skin accomplishes something that thousands of hours of gossip-news television shows cannot: it makes one sympathize with, indeed want to weep for, anyone bearing the burden of wearing celebrity skin.

The trailer for Under the Skin can be viewed via YouTube below:

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

56 responses to “Now Playing: Under the Skin

  • cindybruchman

    Wow! Fantastic review. Jonathan Glazer is a unique director–no one can replace Kubrick, but I’m game for a contender. I can’t wait to see this.

  • cindybruchman

    Reblogged this on Cindy Bruchman and commented:
    Can I pretend I wrote this marvelous review by Michael Glover Smith from Chicago? Top-rate assessment of ‘Under the Skin’.

  • John Charet

    FIrst things first. I am going to leave two replies. The first one is about your last post about Jesus films and the next about your review of Under the Skin (* * * 1/2 out of * * * *). I was a little nervous when I was giving my list of my favorite films on the topic of Jesus Christ. Truth be told, I am actually mixed on Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and I could not decide If I should have given it * * * 1/2 or * * 1/2. I finally answered that question today after I read your reply. I am now taking that film off the list and I am sticking with a * * 1/2 star rating. I am aware that Gibson’s film was about Christ’s last hours, but his emphasis on torture makes it more suitable as a sermon rather than cinema (p.s. that statement is not meant as an indictment against religion). It does feel more like torture porn which I have ambiguous views on. For example, most (if not all) of Eli Roth’s films are crap and with the exception of the first film, I was no fan of any of the Saw sequels. Although it may not serve as torture porn, I was mixed on Pasolini’s Salo as you probably from a recent comment of mine. I love gory horror films of course (you probably know that from my favorite horror films list) and as mentioned before I love Pink Flamingos * * * * (out of * * * *) even though that is not torture porn and was played on a broadly comic scale. I am talking about stuff that just wants to shock (i.e. Passion of the Christ and Von Trier’s Antichrist to name recent examples). Now after giving this deep explanation, I have a feeling that I and you will not be accused of hypocrisy 🙂 but seriously I just really felt like stressing this cause I felt like getting it off my back. Now let’s talk about your review. In my second reply of course:)

  • John Charet

    I love your review of director/writer Jonathan Glazer’s third film entitled Under the Skin which as you know from the previous reply, I gave * * * 1/2 out of * * * * stars too. I have heard some others compare Jonathan Glazer to Stanley Kubrick and their is no denying that his directorial vision serves as a breath of fresh air where other directors are either playing it safe or churning out something conventional. I also agree with you on Glazer’s last film Birth (2004), which is highly underrated (* * * 1/2 out of * * * *). Right on about the music score and sound editing. You are right that Scarlett Johansson is fantastic here, but then again she has always been fantastic in my opinion. As far as Science-fiction goes, this ranks up there under the category of Best recently released science-fiction films. Your comparison of Under the Skin with Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) is more than apt. Keep up the great work as always:)

  • John Charet

    P.S. what do you think of my two deeply detailed responses:) Always interested in hearing your views. Regards:)

    • michaelgloversmith

      I was just kidding about calling Gibson’s film “evil.” The main reason I haven’t seen it is that I just don’t think he’s a very interesting filmmaker. But thank you for the kind words about my UNDER THE SKIN review. I actually got to meet Glazer — very briefly — after a screening of the film here in Chicago. In an era when too many filmmakers are “playing it safe,” as you note, it was a real pleasure to be able to shake his hand and tell him that I thought he made a great movie.

  • John Charet

    I knew you were kidding about calling Gibson’s film “evil” 🙂 but I do agree with you that Mel Gibson (like Kevin Costner) is not an interesting filmmaker. That is awesome that you got to meet Under the Skin filmmaker Jonathan Glazer. He must have been happy that you gave his a film a positive notice. Speaking of Kevin Costner, Director Clint Eastwood gave him his best role in A Perfect World (* * * * out of * * * *). He also gave Meryl Streep her greatest role (in my opinion) in The Bridges of Madison County (* * * * out of * * * *). Speaking of which I heard Eastwood’s next film as director is a film version of the off Broadway musical Jersey Boys with a cast largely from the show. The only professional actor (based on my knowledge) who has a part in the film is going to be Christopher Walken. Regards:)

  • Russel DDK

    Great review, Michael. I’m looking forward to reviewing this movie myself after viewing it.

  • Mark Walker

    Excellent review Michael. Hailing from Glasgow myself, I’m very interested in seeing how the city is depicted but from what I’ve seen it looks suitably grim. Really can’t wait to see this. I loved Sexy Beast and thought Birth was very underrated.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for the response, Mark. If you’re a fan of Glazer’s previous films then I’m sure you’ll love this too. I’ve talked to a lot of American cinephiles who love it but I would be interested to hear a Glaswegian take!

      • Mark Walker

        Yeah, I’m not all that keen on Johansson but I reckon I could overlook her for this. I think it looks and sounds great.

        I notice you are from Chicago? Apparently, Glasgow and Chicago are both very alike in terms of architecture. Both known as the Windy City also.

  • Annie Oakley

    My daughter and I are busting to see this on. hopefully soon 😦

  • The Best Films of 2014: A Midyear Report | White City Cinema

    […] “It’s a visionary work of art in its own right that doesn’t look or sound like anything other than a ‘Jonathan Glazer movie,’ and that should be higher praise than comparing it to motion pictures by great directors from the past”: https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/04/21/now-playing-under-the-skin/ […]

  • benherzberger

    Just caught it. Interesting thought re: the use of Johannson’s “star power”. Didn’t realize a lot of those direction-asking scenes were hidden camera-done – I was thinking, what amiable gentleman. Great film. Loved the scene with the deformed guy that starts her turn.

  • Top Ten Films of 2014 | White City Cinema

    […] I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve spoken to who were turned off by Jonathan Glazer’s mind-blowing horror/sci-fi/art film, starring Scarlett Johansson in her finest performance to date, seemingly because it deviates too much from what they expect from a horror, sci-fi, art or Scarlett Johansson film. Johansson daringly inhabits the role of an alien succubus who cruises contemporary Glasgow in a van at night — picking up, seducing and killing young men (most of whom are portrayed by non-actors initially filmed against their knowledge via hidden digital cameras). While having the alien function as a kind of mirror that reflects the basest instincts of men, Glazer’s movie may feel like an unusually cruel statement about humanity but this is more than counterbalanced by the director’s highly distinctive approach to constructing sound and image, which is so original that I felt exhilarated for days after first seeing it. I am especially fond of the seduction sequences, which imaginatively depict the alien’s victims willingly sinking into an inky black void, and Mica Levi’s otherworldly string-based score. Full review here. […]

  • Top 100 Films of the Decade, pt. 4 (#25 – #1): A Contest | White City Cinema

    […] I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve spoken to who were turned off by Jonathan Glazer’s mind-blowing horror/sci-fi/art film, starring Scarlett Johansson in her finest performance to date, seemingly because it deviates too much from what they expect from a horror, sci-fi, art or Scarlett Johansson film. Johansson daringly inhabits the role of an alien succubus who cruises contemporary Glasgow in a van at night — picking up, seducing and killing young men (most of whom are portrayed by non-actors initially filmed against their knowledge via hidden digital cameras). While having the alien function as a kind of mirror that reflects the basest instincts of men, Glazer’s movie may feel like an unusually cruel statement about humanity but this is more than counterbalanced by the director’s highly distinctive approach to constructing sound and image, which is so original that I felt exhilarated for days after first seeing it. I am especially fond of the seduction sequences, which imaginatively depict the alien’s victims willingly sinking into an inky black void, and Mica Levi’s otherworldly string-based score. Full review here. […]

  • Lindy Oates

    I understood this movie to be a commentary on socialization on women because I think it relates very well to things we as a gender experience throughout our lives. There are a lot of scenes I can think of that show this but as for this comment I will really only cover one. The scenes where she bring the men to her “apartment” is seems like she knows what they are thinking and that she is fully aware of what she is “offering” them, but later when she is actually offering herself to the man who carries her across the puddle she is surprised and a little shocked at her own anatomy and what he was trying to do. I think this is a very poignant statement about how growing up as a girl is. From a young age girls are taught for years to be pretty and kind and that being liked and desired is a good thing, but because we live in this world it’s highly discouraged that young women or girls learn about sex or their bodies, so they have no idea what they are symbols to the boys/men who are desiring them.

    Anyway.

    As for Glazer as an auteur I think the most common thing between both of the films we watched was how the atmosphere of his films put me on edge while almost nothing or something we have seen over and over was happening. In Sexy Beast there would be moments of stillness, like when they have dinner or when he is laying by the pool and I just feel like something awful is going to happen. His movies really make you feel the pit of your stomach. Especially in Under the Skin it was like “Oh here’s a shot of her looking at people…oh god oh god oh god oh god…” I was waiting the entirety of both films for the other shoe to drop. It was like when you’re on a roller coaster and you get to the very top and you see the drop ahead of you but you still have a second before you descend, but for about roughly an hour and a half. That what Jonathan Glazer auter’s mark is for me, the feeling before the fall.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Excellent point about the socialization of girls, Lindy. This is the kind of invaluable perspective that you bring to the film as a female viewer that I was quite unaware of (and that Glazer may have been unaware of as well).

      I also think “the feeling before the fall” is a great way to sum up Glazer’s directorial style. At the end of the day, regardless of how many specific techniques we can point to with respect to how a director employs image and sound, it’s the singular “feeling” imparted by the overall work that defines what an auteur is.

      10/10

  • Kate Malloy

    Glazer is a talented director and an auteur in his own right which is most impressive as he has only three films under his belt. Glazer’s background as a director for music videos certainly comes through in both films we have seen in class. The score for Under The Skin is one of the best I have ever experienced! It is just the right amount of horror and creepy, all the while sucking you completely into the film. The score stands alone, if there was no dialogue in this film (there is very little to begin with compared to traditional Hollywood films) it would still be as impressive if not more so because the music and the artistic way in which this film was directed speaks for itself. In Sexy Beast’s opening scene, Gal is sunbathing next to his pool in a secluded town in Spain. There is no dialogue for the first couple of minutes, just watching Gal bake away in the hot sun. Then comes a boulder from above that merely misses Gal and lands in his pool. This is most certainly Glazer foreshadowing what is to come: the infamous Don Logan…
    Similarly, as Laura, the alien protagonist in Under The Skin (who preys upon unsuspecting men willing to jump into her car without a moment’s hesitation) the audience is captivated by the thrilling music that suddenly disappears as the men are swallowed up whole by a black ink-like liquid. Another point worth mentioning is the artistic way in which this film is directed. The scene where her first victim is seen by her second victim in the thick black ink-like liquid is most memorable. They touch hands for a moment to see if in fact this is real, and then we watch the first victim, swollen and puffy from being submerged in the liquid for so long, more or less disintegrate and shrivel away. These were impressive special effects that a viewer doesn’t always get the pleasure of seeing in today’s Hollywood films.
    Overall, Under The Skin is a rather dark film about human beings and how when we don’t understand something or someone, we automatically think something is wrong with them vs. wondering if the true problem lies within us. In this film’s final seen, we see a man trying to take advantage of Laura in the woods and once he discovers that she isn’t human, he can’t simply let her be as he runs away. He has to come back, douse her in gasoline and set her on fire. This is a prime example of how society has zero tolerance for anything or anybody that is different from them. This is the sentiment that needs to be changed. I like the fact that Glazer shines light onto the dark reality of what it means to be a human being living in this crazy world.

  • Eniko

    Under The Skin is a presentation well put together of our society, of our behavior in certain type of situations from an “outsider’s” point of view. Jonathan Glazer’s unique, surreal imagination, talent truly shines throughout this movie. What I found outstanding and remarkable is the way how he achieved to transmit his message through the sounds and images with such limited dialog. The scene in the shopping mall where Jonathan introduces “us” to Laura, the alien, couldn’t be done a better way. Even though the story revolves around how she seduces the men and then kills them afterwards in her “apartment”, I think what is also substantial is the way how she evolves around us humans throughout the movie. The scene where the group of men attacks her van, the fear what she suppose to feel in that moment in an interesting way it is transmitted to the viewer, while her reaction is absolutely neutral. She droves away, but then she stops and her eyes slightly become watery and agitated; I believe that is the point where she starts to develop feelings for the very first time. After she picks up the facially deformed person, and by letting him go she realizes that she is changing. Her transition is also reflected with her exposure of her nudity during the movie. The more she develops, learns about our world, and becomes more human, the more she is exposed not only emotionally but also physically. The scene where she stands in front of the mirror completely naked and how she admires and analysis herself is phenomenal, very well played Scarlett! Laura’s character reminds me Scarlett’s another movie The Island by Michael Bay, where she plays a clone called Jordan Two Delta – but Under The Skin by far beats that.
    Another characteristic that I noticed in Glazer’s style is the simplicity of the images; no crazy special effects just the simple reality: the image of the cold ocean, the majestic trees that were danced/played around by the wind, and lastly his closing image of the peacefully and lightly falling fluffy snowflakes that sprinkled a little hint of peacefulness to the disturbing end. The last scene when her true alien identity is exposed, while she is holding her human skin, her “mask” that is when she looks and feels more human than ever before.
    I also seen the Birth, true long time ago, but I still remember the thrilling impact and tension of the movie and that was almost 10 years ago, I must watch it again.
    Looking also the facts that he only directed 3 movies along several music videos and commercials, Jonathan Glazer a true auteur, he has a unique and a recognizable style.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Very good point about Laura’s physical evolution mirroring her emotional evolution. I’m also glad you cited the scene in the shopping mall at the beginning — one of the best examples of how this film can make the familiar seem strange. 10/10

  • Conner Kustra

    Glazer does an amazing job with this film. Everything that happens makes sense with how the film is moving along. All the sounds and effects are right in the perfect place to make us react. That very well could be suspenseful with how Laura (The main protagonist of the film, that actually is an alien that came to Earth for one reason, and that one reason was to seduce and kill men) slowly takes the men and kills them. The whole atmosphere just screams Glazer with how dream like everything is, and how crazy weird the world is. He just has that style of “what the hell is going on?”, but with that, it truly makes the viewer think of what they just saw. If anyone saw SEXY BEAST and UNDER THE SKIN they would know that it was Glazer, due to his style.
    Also I would like to agree with you about how Laura starts to grow a conscience after we see her actually kill the man on the beach. The baby she leaves there haunts her when she starts to drive around again. It even gets her when she sees another baby crying and she puts the beach babies cry on that baby in the car. I think then is where she starts to think on her own. Then she fully blooms into having her own conscience is when she lets the deformed man go, because I like to think that she found beauty in what people would probably call the “beast”. After she saw that, I think she thought to herself that she may have been beautiful on the outside, but a beast on the inside. Directly opposite of the deformed man.
    Just to bring up how Glazer is an auteur is just look at all the damn scenes he pulls off. The fog scene is just brilliant and awesome to look at. The scene where she is walking down the hill to the bus stop. The awesome and I mean awesome black alien room where she kills the guys, and the ending shot is just calming with the snowflakes falling onto the camera as you just think to yourself of what the hell just happened. All of the scenes were just beautiful and amazing to look at.
    This film is just great. Watching it with no discussion would have probably made me not like it as much, but once people start talking about it, the film opens up and you can see what Glazer wanted to in each scene and how great it ended up to be. This film has the Glazer flare and it is really great.

  • Bart Buczak

    The most prominent key feature that made this film stand out as a Glazer movie for me, was the use of music/sound particularly when it came to the very surreal sequences. Just as in Sexy Beast when Gal goes through countless nightmares a heavy growling bass fills the ambiance. So too in Under The Skin Glazer not only provides beautifully constructed abstract scenes, such as the victims of Scarlett Johansson’s being devoured into an abyss, but this is all provided with an eery high pitched violin, which comes into play whenever the protagonist is out to strike. This itself is enough for me to appreciate the film as a non-narrative that focuses more on its characters, although they provide little to no dialogue. The music and sound provided with these people describes the personalities just as any words would. Even in The Sexy Beast with Kingsley’s character backed up by very tense abrupt music.
    Johansson’s character throughout the entire second half of the film is driven by her human senses, becoming more human as time goes by. The first half showing a more alien side, but with a manner of professionalism. The simple understanding that the audience can’t be actually too sure of why everything is going on further validates the existential aspects of Glazer’s work. We can only go on to assume with our opinions to the meaning we put behind what we see, further embracing how we’re surrounded by unexplainable questions that we try so hard to give a reason behind. All this in itself shows how Glazer may be seen as a visionary who follows an unconventional, but yet innovative weight on film that works for many seeking to appease the human senses through perspectives yet unseen.

  • Holly Dunworth-Miller

    Glazer is a very experimental, unusual artistic director. From his creative endeavors in his music videos begging to his most artistic and arguably best film during his 15-year career. Under the skin is a beautiful dark representation of human interaction and innocence. Coming from seeing sexy beast to under the skin, glazer expands on his artistic endeavors in under the skin completely by almost entirely eliminating a verbal dialogue. Rather than speaking the images and music take a forefront. The innocence of the women character revels the toxic and influential nature the world we live in today can posses. For instance the mall scene in which the women is shopping for makeup after watching a bunch of women get dolled up with layers of makeup. Glazer plays up the naïve aspect of the women’s nature against the males the women encounters. The imagery is haunting and dark that occurs when key aspects of the film occur. These still images last minutes at a time with my personal favorite the trees and the women’s face when she is in the forest lodge. Choosing Scotland to film couldn’t have been a more perfect choice. Scotland in itself has a dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde feel. The daytime has a mysterious aspect but is not easily detected whether at night the uncertainty of the dark is apparent and scary. The music carries the film along, the music unlike a stereotypical alien sound the eerie, uncertain tone places a suspenseful theme through the film that leads up to the point of being scared but the imagery counterparts the music by showing curiosity and beauty. Fantastic film from glazer, a true art director.

  • Ed Guest

    I agree with most of the points you hit on with this movie. I admit that I happened to a be a little tired when watching the movie so I did not consume it completely. Definitely seems like the kind of movie to watch a second time to gain a greater appreciation. I was very surprised at the risks taken by Johansson. You do not see an actress of her magnitude stripping bare for a movie very often. The thing is it was done in such a tasteful manner that it does not hurt Johansson at all. The alien angle saves this character from being completely deplorable as you assume the alien did not know better when it first came on earth and began killing men. I wonder if it makes a man think twice about being picked up by a stranger woman :). As you mentioned in your review, it is a pleasant surprise to see a movie stand on it’s own with non-verbal storytelling and behavior. It can go a long way in capturing the viewer’s thought process and imagination. This movie would likely not be enjoyed by a fan of non-stop straight forward action style movies. This leads to the question whether this type of movie will ever be truly accepted by Hollywood as a good formula, and I think the answer is it better off not being accepted in that manner and appreciated as it’s own art form.

  • Aaron Eichhorst

    This was one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in a while. A unique perspective on what an alien life form would experience having come to planet earth. This film was quite visually stunning and as mentioned in class, you could pretty much watch this film with the sound off and still have a pretty good idea of what is going on. However, I feel the use of audio was ingenious as well. Although the spoken dialogue was seldom, I feel it was still important to show her interactions with the human race. She seemed to either not completely understand what was being said to her or it just simply didn’t evoke any emotion. Additionally, the sound effects and ambient noises that were used help set the tone of the film perfectly as well. You kind of got the feeling that there was something outer worldly right off the bat. Overall, I think Glazer has a specific talent for making the viewer feel physically uncomfortable when watching his films. This was present in Sexy Beast when when Gal was questioned about Don’s mysterious disappearance. We knew that he had been killed and yet we get to see Gal casually lie about how he came to join the team and his previous interactions with Don. In Under the Skin there were shocking images that really spoke volumes about us as humans. We got to see ourselves from another perspective which was psychologically unnerving. There were also scenes of prolonged silence which brought with it certain uncomfortable feelings as well. I feel silence in a film can be very powerful, and Glazer used it in Under the Skin very well.

  • Eric Gatti

    I like how Glazer starts off his movies with an attention grabber that has you thinking “ok, where is this going and what is it indicative of?” Watching the opening scenes of both movies, I noticed that the sounds and music set the tone of the movie and have a natural feeling to them (even the metronomic sounds of Under the Skin). It definitely sets the mood and preps you for the emotional ride that lays ahead. Also, I like how Glazer combines surreal scenes with the natural environment. Like the moments where we’re transported to the inner fears of Gal in the scenes with the rabbit guy and the scenes in “Laura’s” apartment. These surreal scenes don’t detract from the seriousness of the movies or the messages that they convey. After watching that Glazer Guinness commercial in class the other day and reflecting about Sexy Beast, I noticed that Glazer loves to use symbolism in his work- the commercial and Under the Skin really highlight that and now I know why you said that Glazer has really grown into his own after Sexy Beast.

  • David Kolodziejski

    This movie really got Under My Skin. Haha get it? Trust me it’s funny.

    Under the Skin is a difficult movie to describe however it is the best non-narrative film that I’ve ever seen. Jonathon Glazier’s signature of his films is as obvious as one would think. Jonathon Glazier’s signature is in his almost “experimental” style of film directing and editing. I say experimental because most the scenes were very abstract and unique and worked brilliantly. From very early on in the film we saw Scarlett Johansson taking coming entering the movie on a solid white backroom while she’s in the middle of the screen. In addition, the entire opening sequence where she is getting her eye installed. However the only other experimental film that I’ve seen was Shoals and strangely enough Under the Skin adapted the same experimental feeling. Throughout the entire film there seems to be an unshakable sensation. To me the film feels like blood flowing down the river.. You feel uncomfortable and on edge throughout the entire film and the endings always results but there’s always some form of closure. The film may have experimental and unique and uncomfortable aspects but it still flows perfectly; it simply feels different. This is the same in Sexy Beast. The film makes you feel uncomfortable. The scenes where Ben Kingsley is in the room make always give the feeling of anxiety where you can almost see the tension in the room. This is Jonathon Glaziers signature. He creates films that are off balance and uncomfortable yet the in all cases the more you think about he’s films the better it resonates.

  • Grace Dynek

    It is only necessary for an artist and author like Jonathan Glazer to rip down the sexual persona of a big time movie star through the story of an alien succubus on Earth. Not only does Glazer direct Scarlett Johansson to rip off her clothes as she simultaneously strips away her embodied sex symbol. But Glazer also strips away and critiques society’s symbols too. Just by putting an alien character in any setting and situation that a human would view as “normal”, we automatically start to question. When Johansson’s character calmly walks through the mall, we start to judge and see a different perspective of all the people doing something as normal as shopping. Another moment was when she was in the home of the bus stop man and he made her dinner as they watched some ridiculously stupid show on TV. As the bus stop man laughs to the show with his mouth full, Johansson just sits there, straight face, not even confused, with her hands in her lap. This scene is asking the viewer to open their eyes and see the meaninglessness and black nothingness that life is. I interpreted it to be closely related to the philosophy of nihilism, defined as, the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective as the basis of truth. That humans create illusions, societies, medias, malls, love, and material items in order to escape the meaninglessness that life truly is. It is a pretty deep idea but the simplicity of nothingness that Glazer encaptures in such a provocative, visually stimulating picture proves that he’s an auteur. Making the alien character a woman was the best route to go, if it was anything else, a man, or dog, the film would be entirely different. I enjoyed mostly how the alien represents this black, blank, meaninglessness. Connecting to your Steve Rubrick statement, the inky pool murders definitely reminded me of 2001: Space Odyssey. The two words I described the murder scenes as being were, deception to conception, even though the conception is actually death, the meaningless reversed it to conception. It reminded me of the baby/grandpa scene in 2001: Space Odyssey, definitely similar in the creepy, abstract, nothing feeling that both scenes provide. When I think of Under the Skin in its whole, my mind goes through this quiet montage of beautiful pictures, especially towards the end how she migrates from urban to nature. Glazer couldn’t have made the ending stronger. It is by far the weirdest, deepest, and existential interpretation of sex that I’ve ever seen. None of it was nearly to being sexy. My heart broke when she had to grab the light to literally look inside herself and there was nothing there. I think my heart broke because she was so close to feeling love or something and everybody deserves that. Now he’s making me question love, do I deserve that? Or have I just created that in order to escape the black nothingness? Glazer’s cool, almost to the point of genius.

    • michaelgloversmith

      “This scene is asking the viewer to open their eyes and see the meaninglessness and black nothingness that life is.”

      Wow, well said! My worldview is not as bleak as yours but I know what you mean. This scene is so powerful. I think the whole point of showing that sitcom while the alien is there with a neutral expression on her face is to make us question why the fuck this guy is laughing at something so stupid! And, of course, it also makes us question ourselves: how many times do we laugh at something similarly stupid that we see on T.V. or the internet and do we genuinely find these things funny or are we just providing the response that we know society expects of us?

  • Isabella Wasilewski

    Glazer had done a wonderful job with this film but it’s probably one of the most difficult movies to respond to. “Under the Skin” is a master piece that I see as a horror film because there was a scene that reminded me of aspects in horror films. The film that I was reminded of was “The Shining” because of this scene. The scene in “Under the Skin” were the blood was flowing down into an unknown pit. This scene reminded me of the scene in “The Shining” when a river of blood came out of the elevator into a hallway. The use of blood as a symbol of death is interesting because it has a big part in horror films.

  • Jonathan Carlson

    Form what I have seen and from what I have been told, Glazer has this certain style to his films. However, I did not see his resemblance in Under the Skin. I know I only seen Sexy Beast and the Guinness commercial but those two you can tell came from the same guy. They were both narrated the same way and both had that “macho” feel to them. There was that deep foreign voice and it had the darker and dingy feel to it. Not afraid to get dirty for some fun. In Sexy Beast you had a few characters through out the film seem to go over the top. As when Don out of no where starts to beat up a sleeping Gary. Or in the Guinness commercial you have these guys surfing in waves made of stallions. Under the skin had very little of this. Perhaps it was because there was virtually no narration or any emotions. Whatever it was I would have no idea if you told me Glazer had directed this film. With that being said, I thought this was a strange movie that wasn’t like anything I’m used to and I kind of liked it. There was next to no dialog which was strange and about 90% of the dialog there was, I couldn’t understand. However I was still able to follow along with curiosity. Although I would have liked more of my questions met, I think the ending was oddly well done.

  • Lynn

    I’d say that Jonathan Glazer is extravagant in his style as far as the expositions in his films are concerned (of course I had to also see Birth to cement this point). As you’ve already pointed out that his films are recognizable as non-narrative, it only makes sense to not find most scenes as economical as a conventional Hollywood film where the narrative is spoon-fed to the audience within about 2-5 minutes into the film. I totally agree that in Under the Skin, his emphasis is more on the images rather than the dialogue because as surreal as his shots and sequences look, they’re still able to connect to the audience at a personal level. And I think the subjective style of narration in this particular film is what makes it more effective in conveying to the audience what the movie is about while restricting the depth of story information. When you asked in class if I felt sympathy for the alien as she started experiencing the cruelty of a human, I was not able to respond so easily because I wasn’t sure if it was sympathy that I felt for her. But as I contemplated more about it I realized that what I felt was more of an empathy. And I believe that each of us one way or another has experienced being in an unfamiliar environment where we feel indifferent in the beginning and just when we start to understand and sort of become comfortable with the people in that environment, we then get slighted by someone.

  • Aman.

    Under the Skin: Is an Dark Movie means a very huge lesson for the man and women both. In this film they used the character as an Alien covering
    the human mask although the theam of this movie is to given us a lesson
    that all the attractive subject or women or anything is not a benifits to us
    or joyable or deserve to us. In this movie also given us a one more lesson
    that what whould happen if another creature comes to our world do we
    safe or we will survive. In this movie mostly attention to the sex part although it did’nt show any kind of sex sean but just same thing keep
    repeating the same sean again again with different male character
    although there were only one women but the question is do the man realy
    so stupid that if some women try to attract means to just go get it and have
    sex with any women no matter who is she or what kind of women or what
    kind of creature may be she has some disease or some kind of difficulties
    or any thing, its an lesson for me and other man who understand the sex
    is not the only realife of life there is some other a lot more things in this
    world to do from which we can control ourselves and protect from from the
    problem. If something attract you means its not yours may be something
    else we suppose to study first and take disscision carefully each and every step.

    Dear Professor I hope you will like it.
    Aman Ebrahim.

  • Alexis Racine

    Glazer definitely leaves his mark on his art. Whether it be in his films, or his commercials. At first, it was a bit difficult to figure out what his mark(s) were/are. I just knew that it was distinctly Glazer.
    But I’ve come to notice that he likes to use monotone voice-overs, for starters. We saw that in Sexy Beast, the commercial we watched in class, and Under the Skin! We also see this dark fantasy in all three, which leads me to believe that this is another detail of his signature. He also does a lot of close-ups of the face or takes his time focusing in on an individual. What I mean by that is that he makes scenes slower, which is often mistaken for a negative thing. I am in no way intending to insult the pace; slow is just merely a descriptive word for the tempo of the art. Unfortunately, Glazer only has 3 films, two of which we watched in class. Fortunately, it should not be difficult to watch all of his films, which I do intend on doing! 🙂

  • Rebeka Nekolova

    What I think makes Under The Skin such a great film is how minimal the dialogue is, and that the entire story is mainly told through images and emotions. The minimal dialogue works for this film, because as an alien, verbal human interaction such as talking/conversation doesn’t have meaning to her. The only time she talks is when she’s using small talk to lure and seduce men, but it’s obvious that the words have no meaning to her. For example, the first scene where she tries to pick up a man you can tell she doesn’t mean what she’s saying, because after the man walks away from the van, her smiling face immediately drops and looks emotionless again, and this shot reveals how there is no depth or meaning to her words. The other strong aspect of this film, is how the story is told through images and emotions. The cinematography in this film is incredible, and I think because the visuals play such a strong role in this film and carry on the story, you could watch it with the sound off and still generally understand what’s happening in the film. Not to mention, Scarlett Johansson’s acting is amazing in this film… Throughout the entire film, I just saw her as  a ‘being’ who was an embodiment of human emotions; Johansson truly doesn’t play a character, and I was really impressed throughout the entire film by her acting. What I also thought was interesting was when she sees the deformed man for the first time, and she just sees him as another normal human being and a victim, so she seduces him the same way she seduced the other men; I don’t think she sees him as ugly. This scene, with the deformed man, I think shows how much emphasis our society puts on appearances. She asked all the other men about their girlfriends, families etc. and when she asks the ugly man those questions, he shyly says ‘no’ to everything (including saying ‘no’ to ever touching a woman). His held back and shy behavior towards her, and her treating him equally like the other men, shows how she doesn’t understand why he doesn’t try to jump on the chance to be with her, like the other men did, and that’s because in our eyes he’s ugly and he would never have a chance with a ‘woman’ like that, and the man views himself that way as well. Comparing Sexy Beast and Under The Skin, both films have surrealist aspects and have a stronger emphasis on emotions and visuals than they do with dialogue. While Ben Kingsley had a great script in Sexy Beast, the depth he had in portraying Don’s psychopathic emotions was much stronger. Both of these films are amazing, and Jonathon Glazer is a truly talented director.

  • Liza A-f

    I did not see many similarities between Sexy Beast and Under The Skin. Even technically they seem like very different films. And perhaps that is partially due to the 13 year gap between the two films. However, Glazer’s style was very clear when comparing Sexy Beast and his Guinness commercial. They both have similar drum heavy music and even a similar sounding narration that is reminiscent of the opening of Sexy Beast. What I did see from both the Glazer movies we have watched is his ability to blend reality with symbolism. In Sexy Beast it is at first unclear whether the gun toting rabbit we see sporadically throughout the film is real, a figment of the protagonist’s imagination or symbolic of something. In Under The Skin, Glazer again chooses an abstract way of showing the death of the the protagonist’s victims. As each man wades into the ink black depths, it is left for you to interpret whether the image you see is literal, or just a symbol of their deaths. Glazer seems to choose images that portray an idea instead of using dialogue.

  • Daniel Lu

    After watching both Sexy Beast and Under the Skin, I believe that we were able to see parts of Jonathan Glazer’s artistic expression. I feel almost as if the Guinness ad we watched in class connected the two films, and thus making Glazer’s “style” more apparent. The eerie surreal quality of both films really makes them completely unique to anything we’ve see in class. I think that the pace of the film, lack of dialogue (especially on Scarlett Johansson’s part) , and overall “alien-ness” are what makes the film and Johansson’s character so intriguing. While watching the film I noticed that it was free to take whichever course it wanted because the plot was so open-ended. Although the film was somewhat hard to follow, I think the the true purpose of the film was to show how our world would be perceived by another being. The film began by showing how barbaric and disgusting men could be, but Scarlett’s character meets several people along the way that change her view on human men(which is why she stops the indirect killing). The unpredictability and intrigue of Johansson’s character is what really drove the film for me. Glazer does a phenomenal job throughout the film setting the mood and scenes. I think it is there that we can most apparently see his expression on film.

  • Danielle Lohens

    Like all of Glazer’s works that I have seen, Under the Skin was a unique and attention getting work of art. Although he has only made three movies, I would definitely consider him an auteur. Glazer’s works all evoke a similar feeling within the audience that is extremely original. Although I don’t typically enjoy sci-fi films, I immensely enjoyed Under the Skin. The basic concept of an outsider coming into our society and viewing it with fresh eyes made it possible for the viewer to to see our society in a different light. I loved Scarlett Johansson’s performance. I definitely think it was her best one to date. Using a sex symbol/movie star added a layer to the message of the film. The scene in the mall was excellent. I felt like I was going to a mall for the first time. What the alien chooses to wear and how she chooses to do her make up shows what an outsider thinks is beautiful/sexy in our culture. I liked how her appearance mirrored her transformation. In the beginning of the film, she always looks put together. As the film progresses, her appearance becomes more disheveled. At the end of the movie, her jeans become covered in mud. She looks more human and acts more human like as the movie progresses. One of her most human moments is when she is in the shelter and she lays down in the fetal position. My favorite scene and what I believe to be one her turning points in the film is her interactions with the deformed man. In her conversation with him, she learns how much value humans put on appearance. Subsequently, when she looks at her marred appearance in the mirror, she begins to feel sympathy for the man and chooses to keep him alive. I believe she allows herself to become more vulnerable as the movie progresses. This vulnerability leads to her death. The burning of the alien demonstrates that humans disregard and destroy anything that they find to be different because they are scared of the unknown. Overall, I think Under the Skin is a true depiction on what is wrong with many of our societal views. There is so much that could be studied/said about this film. I truly enjoyed how Glazer choose to demonstrate his criticisms on society. I loved that he chose to make a different film without a strict storyline.

  • Brian Y Kim

    Under the Skin is by far the weirdest movie I have watched, but also it is the greatest Glazer’s auteur movie I saw. Perhaps I should say it was uncomfortable movie rather than weird. Because most alien movies I have watched were watching aliens only in human’s perspective. Therefore, watching our world through alien’s viewpoint was fresh, interesting and also somewhat uncomfortable for me, especially the scene in the mall and watching all the guys falling for Scarlett from the hidden camera and the last scene in the movie. To be honest, I did not understand Jonathan Glazer’s auteur by watching Sexy Beast and Under the Skin at first; therefore I have watched some of his commercial videos from Levis, Sony, and Guinness. Then I started to notice Glazer’s auteur in his movies. One exceptional Glazer’s auteur is surreal. In Sexy Beast there were scenes that human like rabbit coming after Gal and in Under the Skin there were surreal scenes from the beginning and when Laura seduced the guys to her apartment. When guys were in Laura’s apartment they were slowly submerged into black ink like liquid.
    Personally one of the Glazer’s auteur is usage of soundtrack. Glazer uses irregular sound beats and mystery soundtracks to keep give horror feeling and tension. Indeed, Under the Skin could be seemed as long and boring film, but only after we watched it. Because most of the scenes were Laura repeating seducing guys, but when I was watching the film I was focused due to creepy soundtracks and due to sudden motorcycle chasers appearance.
    With only two films of Sexy Beast and Under the Skin I don’t understand Glazer’s non-narrative auteur. In Sexy Beast there were many dialogues, but after watching his commercials I agree. Most commercials are very busy explaining the benefits and performance of their products, but Glazer only used few dialogues images and soundtracks to give inspiration to audience.

  • Anthony Jara Benitez

    Personally after i watched under the skin i saw some similarities between this film and sexy beast. The similarities that stood out the most was the music in the scenes in sexy beast when the rabbit would appear and the music when The Female character (Scarlet Johansson) puts men into trance and would have them devoured into the black water. The second was the beauty in both films,.with the pool side and night life scenes in sexy beast and the beautiful shots of nature in Under the skin. Overall this film left me with many questions the ones that stuck with me the most is why did she start to build a conscious? and why did she not put the man that was harming her into a trance and save herself?

  • Rashad Anabtawi

    Personally I did not like the film, Under the Skin (2013) by Johnathan Glazer. After prior hearing about Glazers initial work as a music video director I began to notice some really nice musical cues and uses in the film Sexy Beast (2000). From Don Logan’s epic introduction to the sudden cut off as the car door opens for him to get out and meet Gal. This is what I completely feel is a key element in film making, the role of music and sound to help create this world that the director is trying to make believable and fluent, or to emphasize the characters or help make us feel something that can’t be directly seen. Jonathan Glazer has a firm understanding of this which he has brought with him from his world of music videos and can clearly be can be seen from the very first moments of Under the Skin with the synthesized sound effect gradually coming on screen, to the eerie and well used soundtrack. What honestly made Under the Skin underwhelming is the extremely long shots, it seemed that without these shots the film would have been 45 minutes. I honestly couldn’t mind less about Scarlett Johansson painfully fake accent because, I found, her character movement made up for it. Her weird way she walks that’s only idiosyncratic to her character showed real depth of understanding of a character, rather than another ‘Black Widow’ with an accent. But those long shots kept ruining everything for me and presumably (after reading a lot of reviews) a lot of other people as well. I understand why he uses these extreme intense longshots accompanied by either eerie music or eerie silence with strong imagery but I feel they are over used to the point that I no longer needed to pay attention to every long scene and then I would zone off to my phone or something else for a literal minuet to two minutes of just someone running across a field, or Johansson character driving to actually get to the next area, or very well done (but again extended) awkward human encounters. I felt that the movie would have been better off a shorter film, with long shots used in the intro, and in the middle when Johansson character meets Adam Pearson’s character and she comments on his hands, the long awkward drive would have been the best long shot to keep, and everything else up to the end should have been pretty much a normal fluid movie because the way the story was told and the story itself was very strong, despite the idea that comes to mind when you think of ‘seductive alien murder Scarlet Johansson’. The story and portrayal of the story, I liked. Even in Sexy Beast the audience is dancing with an idea that this is a move based off fake and not real people, but this could really be happening right now somewhere in the world at this exact moment. The extremely colorful detailed special effects were limited and so minimalistic that in the realm of physics, astrology and philosophy this abyss, this undefined darkness is not so hard to imagine as the space that holds ‘stuff’, beautiful way to tickle the existential part of our brain. And rather than showing us a huge designed spaceship, we see (I THINK) three lights circling at the beginning of the film. What keeps the realm of realism grounded are little things like that fact that we don’t see the outside of the van or any establishing long shots with the van driving to some indie music, because it wouldn’t create that cold realistic feeling. Even when the actual biker was driving down the street in the long shot of him going about 250 MPH on a flat road was a beautiful shot but displayed in almost near silence, same can be said about the Adam Pearson scene of him running naked in a field of grass. A beautiful story being beautifully told about human connection and the ideologies of inner beauty and living with disfigurement in a world so obsessed with appearances, and upholding said appearances; but just a little slow at times that made me look at the run time of the film which, to me is a very bad sin of cinema.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Did you not listen to my lecture last week? It is not a film about “story!” It is a statement about humanity that needs its long takes (not “long shots”) in order to fully make its points. Also, not sure which reviews you read but UNDER THE SKIN received mostly raves from the critics who are worth a damn!

  • Rafael Pasadyn

    At first the movie seemed a little wierd and awkward but I guess it grew on me as it went on. This class has taught me to never “judge a movie by its cover” and even though some things kind of didn’t make sense it was still enjoyable to watch. What I felt was pretty cool were the scenes where Scarlett Johansen lured the men into following her where they thought there were going to get lucky. The water or whatever liquid it was was like sucking the life out of the people. Even though she seemed like a bad person for doing this she actually spared a mans life when she had the moment when she was walking out the house and looked herself in the mirror. This scene made it seem like she was a real human and not an alien. What also helped was the background info that was provided before the movie started and I feel without this it would have been harder to understand. I feel that it is almost necessary to do some research for every movie to get some info on it so you won’t be totally in the dark when it is shown.

  • Alexis Chavero

    This is the type of weird that I personally liked. The kind where you just have to stare at the screen with curiosity because the plot, if there is considered to even be a plot line (not your typical predictable plot line), is just so random and unpredictable. At no point through out the movie could I have guessed what was going to happen next. For example, when she meets the deformed man, I thought he would be the one exception and that the moral of the story would be that its whats on the inside that counts, but no. Instead she kills him too and moves on, which I guess shows how she really doesn’t have those standards of “beauty” since she hasn’t been in our society very long. Point being that I rarely was able to predict what was going to happen next. Also every single scene didn’t necessarily mean something for the following scenes, some of them were just there to make you feel something, not necessarily explain something. Like when she is taking a nap in the shack, she is so calm and relaxed and the cinematography of her sleeping over the thousands of moving pine trees, it had nothing to do with the next scene, but it put us at ease because she was finally at ease, but then she gets touched by the man in a very alarming and scary way. It went from a relaxing much needed nap, to very gross looking fingers creeping on her silky smooth body. It was a very surreal scene, because it seemed like she was dreaming of sleeping on a cloud over the trees and then her dream turns into a nightmare. Very interesting film, for open minded people I would say, considering there is not much dialogue but thats the trick to it. Its not about the characters dialogue at all, just what you see will suffice.

  • Erika

    I agree wholeheartedly with Lindy – I think that gender roles are a crucial part of how this film is read, whether you’re conscious of them or not. Keep in mind that these aliens are never assigned gender: for all we know, they are completely genderless. Yet the protagonist’s experience on earth is distinctly and crucially female. All of her empowerment and vulnerabilities are expressed through womanhood. She uses her sexuality to mesmerize and entrap men – which would likely have been significantly more difficult had the protagonist been a man attempting to coerce women into a van – and also becomes more in touch with her physicality and the act of sex as an offering of vulnerability and intimacy. The moment that ultimately breaks her is the rape, something she would have been less likely to encounter if she had chosen the form of a man. Glazer, whether intentionally or not, has used the female experience as a scope through which to view the complexities of human experience.

    As for Glazer as an auteur, I think your comment in your review about Glazer “tells this story more through the images than the dialogue” is sort of his defining style in my opinion. Sexy Beast was also full of visual storytelling, even though it was definitely much more traditionally narrative than Under the Skin. He uses visual metaphors, color and lighting to communicate with his audience. The use of the rabbit man and the boulder/pool incident in Sex Beast are strong examples of how he branches outside of the narrative to communicate something to the audience using visuals, and escaping the limits of the narrative to articulate a theme or idea. So far, I’m loving everything I’ve seen by him, and can’t wait for the opportunity to see Birth.

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