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Under the Skin (2013)
Filmmaker(s): Jonathan Glazer

A seductive stranger prowls the streets of Glasgow in search of prey: unsuspecting men who fall under her spell.

Under the Skin (2013)


A fair enough way to divide filmviewers is between those that come for a coherent sequence of facts (to call a story) and those that come for an experience induced by any means. Most films address both communities, but grand experiments in contrasting the two can be powerful. For me, the greatest evocation of love in film was “In the Mood for Love;” little happens in terms of conventional story. In fact, what story is invoked is in the mind of a science fiction writer and not seen at all in that film, constituting the sequel.

Shift a bit. What are the most cinematic things you know? Choreographed violence? Languid landscapes? Smoke? Sex, surely sex ranks high. More exactly it is seduction, used as a pull by whatever means necessary — and usually that is sex. Why? Because it is cheap and essential. Because the world runs on urges and this is the most pure.

So here we have something close to pure cinema, evoking something close to pure seduction. Story as we usually think of it is shifted to ambiguous context. It is easy enough to make up a story that fits this, but the whole point is you have to make it up, you are seduced at even this level.

The essentials are: an inner being belongs to a group. Perhaps ‘she’ is exploited, perhaps in the way a queen bee is, maintained by the hive until exhausted — then replaced. She wears a skin that has its own being, and the two collaborate to seduce single men. The inner being governing the mission, and the outer the seductive power. (We don’t know enough until the very end to suggest even this much.)

The two work in reasonable symbiosis, the outer being seemingly ignorant of the inner, or of not being ‘fully’ human. As the film progresses, the seductress tries to escape. This apparently has happened before. Instead of being reskinned, she is destroyed, perhaps throwing the whole hive into risk. That is as much story as we can reach, and other views will have less and likely different ones. The effect of the film is carried not by this story, but by the ‘skin’ — the literal skin — of the movie.

Some will say this is a matter of style only, but what the filmmaker has created is seductive images of seduction. Some evoke the notion of seen/unseen. Others are languid, liquid, tragic passion. Always we are in the dark, often contained in wearable spaces.

This is not my favorite actress, but it is my favorite acting challenge: carrying and conveying two personalities and narratives simultaneously. She does better than Norah Jones in ‘Blueberry Nights.’ Better than DiCaprio in ‘Shutter Island.’ But not well enough to balance the power of the containing images. It is her arms, I think. They need to do more than surrender. She does do well in leading the prey across/into the pool: seduction is not in the dance, but what is left out of the dance, and she knows this.

My definition of noir has a seemingly ordinary human caught up in odd circumstances that are overtly driven by an acknowledged audience as capricious gods. Recent film experiments try different advanced formulas for noir, and this is noe of the most novel: the men she watches are the ordinary public, namely us. Often we/they appear in the film without their knowledge or control.

The main character likely was just walking home from her job before being captured to be worn.

Posted in 2014

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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