Saturday, April 19, 2014

Under the Skin, is Brilliant, Polarizing, and Ultimately a Masterful take on Identity

Under the Skin (4 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth)
Written by: Walter Campbell, and Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson

Under the Skin, is brilliant, polarizing, and ultimately a masterful take on identity.  Brilliant because like a great piece of art this film will stay with me forever.  As I watched, I was not aware of the journey I was on, but in the end I could not stop thinking about the road taken.

The film centers on Scarlett Johansson, an alien who falls to Earth, and takes on the bodily form of Lucy.  Lucy dives around in a white van, in a distinct symbol often given to strangers who try to lure young children away with candy.  Lucy drives around London playing innocent luring men to her.  As Lucy approaches these men she asks them if they are alone, do they have a family or someone else.  If not lucy lures them to her home, and the result is hard to explain, but let's just say, it's not happy ending.  As Lucy travels around she has a partner in the matter, who helps dispose of bodies at moments, but things start to get more interesting when Lucy tries to understand who she is in her human form.

The film is polarizing in the sense that there is nothing traditional about this, there is no three acts, nothing hits the truest sense narrative like within most other films.  There may even be less dialogue than Gravity, and the dialogue that exists is circumstantial, pleasantries, that do not push the story forward, but an added sound.  The film style is docudrama, there is a unique look to the film as well, something not traditional, which can also make people uncomfortable.  This film pushes boundaries further than most Lars Von Trier films, and that's in large part to director/writer Jonathan Glazer.  

Glazer is channeling a bit of Stanley Kubrick, and ode to things to beautiful in science fiction, while pushing the genre further than ever before.   Glazer has done three films in 14 year, his first Sexy Beast is one of the most under rated films of the 2000s, Birth was a mixed bag, and this film is something different, something special in the sense that it challenges the comfort of the audience.  Glazer creates an ominous unwelcoming tone, you are not meant to see understand, or fully grasp the journey.  Daniel Landin's cinematography is the sharpest I have seen so far this year, and some of the strongest this last few years.  Mica Levi's score is tense, in a good way, and one of my favorite scores for a film in the 2000s.  The music set the tone perfectly, and made me ready to jump out of my seat.  This was a dark journey and while these men set the tone, it was the woman on screen who seduced in every way possible.

Just a few months back we were drawn into a performance by just a voice in Her, and that was Johansson.  In this film its all about the earthly body Johansson assumes in Lucy, and the dark journey of exploration begins with a thud.  Johansson's innocence is unnerving; she lures men who are unattached to an oft unknown fate.  Towards the end, one of these attempts shatters her, and her path, her destiny, are off kilter.  Lucy attempts to eat chocolate cake, have sex, taking on human behavior, but this only leads her down a path which pushes her to the brink.  Johansson is great in this role, and with words spoken the journey of finding oneself is completely and brutally honestly shown.

Glazer and Johansson have turned something, off putting and ominous into one of the most interesting films of the year.  Skin is a beautiful work of art, and should be admired for the way it bravely goes where few films dare never journey into the unknown, and sometimes off putting.

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