Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 6; Language 1; Sex 4/Nudity 8.
Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 47 min.
Our star rating (1-5): 3
My child, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
so that you may hold on to prudence,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a loose woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol.
I was looking toward the exit during the first part of this weird movie, filmed in a semi-documentary style. However, I was with someone, and am now glad that I didn’t walk out. Under the Skin is the kind of dis-orienting film that requires a lot of thought before it makes much sense. This is because director Jonathan Glazer and his co-writer Walter Campbell give us no context for what transpires on the screen. (The film is based the novel by Michel Faber) There is a strange prelude almost like a light show, and then we see a woman (Scarlett Johansson) and a young dead woman (also Johansson). The first removes the dead woman’s clothes and dons them—and then seems to put on the skin of the body itself. A motorcycle man dressed in a racing suit (Jeremy McWilliams) takes the body away. We see a good deal of this biker, racing at breakneck speed along winding roads in the highlands: he seems to be at times her clean-up crew, and at other times her watcher.
The woman cruises in a van the streets of Glasgow at night, asking various men for directions. She passes over those with family connections, but picking up an occasional unattached male. She lures him through a door into the dark interior of a house where she seems to walk backward on the surface of water as she removes her clothes. The lustful man follows, stripping off his own clothing, but as he moves toward the woman, he sinks deeper and deeper into the water. We see the fate of one victim, his body apparently ground up into a liquid mixture that moves toward what seems to be a fiery furnace.
There are a number of strange encounters—at a rocky beach where a woman swims to rescue her dog caught in the tide, and her husband, leaving their baby, plunges in after her, and then a man in a scuba suit swims after him. The dog, wife, and husband are lost to the sea, but their would be rescuer barely manages to make it back to shore, only to be killed when the woman strikes his head several times with a rock. The baby is left crying alone on the shore.
The woman picks up an Elephant Man-like pedistrian, but does not dispatch him. Nor does she, as far as we can see, do in a man who takes her to his house out of kindness and not because of lust. In a pine forest she encounters a very different sort of man, and it is here that we really see the meaning of the film’s title. The film leaves those of us who have not read the book with a lot of questions. She is apparently like the aliens in Damon Knight’s great short story To Serve Man, and this is no more a spoiler than the brief Imdb description. I now wonder if her strange behavior is the result of her spending time on Earth and becoming more sympathetic to humans who are not lusting after her physically. And is the motorcycle rider, joined by several others, trying to chase her down in the Scottish wilderness to which she has fled? If she has changed, then what a sad fate overtook her there!