Review: Scarlett Johansson's Alien Transformation: Exploring 'Under the Skin'

14 August 2023

"Under the Skin," a film directed by the visionary Jonathan Glazer, has left an indelible mark on the world of cinema since its release in 2013. Glazer's unique directorial style, marked by his attention to detail and willingness to push artistic boundaries, is evident throughout the film. The story follows an enigmatic woman, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson (The Prestige, Lucy) as she traverses the streets of Scotland in her unassuming white van.

Her mission, at first shrouded in mystery, slowly reveals itself as she lures and preys on unsuspecting men. This genre-defying masterpiece blends elements of horror and science fiction, encompassing a narrative that is both deeply introspective and profoundly disconcerting.

under the skin film poster

Plot and Atmosphere: A Surreal Journey

The film's ethereal atmosphere is meticulously crafted through a combination of visual and auditory elements. Its deliberate pacing allows viewers to immerse themselves in each scene, savoring the tension and unease that linger in the air. The minimalist plot, rather than detracting from the experience, heightens the film's impact.

Glazer's decision to prioritize mood and emotion over exposition paves the way for a deeper exploration of the film's themes. This approach creates a sense of discomfort that resonates long after the credits roll, as audiences are left grappling with their own interpretations of the enigmatic narrative.

Scarlett Johansson's Performance: The Alien Within

Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of the nameless alien entity is a masterclass in subtlety and nuance. Her performance captures the character's inherent disconnect from human emotions, creating an almost uncanny presence on screen.

Johansson's ability to convey complex thoughts and feelings through the slightest gestures and expressions is a testament to her extraordinary acting range. The alien's detachment is palpable, yet moments of curiosity and vulnerability seep through, allowing the audience to witness the gradual transformation of a creature discovering the depths of human experience.

Visuals and Cinematography: Hauntingly Beautiful

The film's visual style is hauntingly beautiful, capturing both the desolate landscapes of Scotland and the eerie urban environments with equal finesse. The contrast between the stark, natural landscapes and the gritty city streets mirrors the juxtaposition of the alien's perspective and that of her human victims.

Glazer's deliberate use of long takes and unobtrusive camerawork invites viewers to become voyeurs themselves, heightening the sense of unease. The recurring motif of reflective surfaces, particularly mirrors, symbolizes the film's exploration of identity and self-discovery, inviting audiences to confront their own reflections.

Themes and Symbolism: An Exploration of Humanity

"Under the Skin" ventures into the depths of human nature, probing its complexities, vulnerabilities, and inherent contradictions. Through the enigmatic encounters between the alien and her victims, the film functions as a mirror reflecting the intricacies of human behavior, relationships, and societal norms.

The raw and unfiltered interactions between the alien and her victims strip away the façades that individuals often present to the world. As the alien lures these unsuspecting men, the film captures authentic reactions and emotions, revealing the breadth of human responses to a situation marked by vulnerability. Some men approach with excitement and eagerness, while others exhibit suspicion and hesitation. This spectrum of reactions highlights the diversity of human experiences and underscores the vulnerability we all share when confronted with the unknown.

The capacity for empathy emerges as a central theme. Despite her cold and detached exterior, the alien's journey gradually uncovers moments of empathy within her. Through these moments, the film suggests that empathy is an intrinsic aspect of human nature, one that transcends language, appearance, and origin. As the alien's transformation unfolds, viewers witness a shift from detached curiosity to genuine concern for the victims she initially targeted. This evolution resonates deeply, challenging preconceived notions about identity and the potential for growth beyond initial intentions.

The recurring imagery of the black void carries potent symbolism. It represents the fear of the unknown, the depths of human consciousness, and the existential uncertainties that define the human experience. This void is a visual manifestation of the alien's initial detachment from the human emotions she encounters. However, as she becomes more immersed in human life, her encounters with the void shift.

Rather than being a source of fear, the void evolves into a representation of the shared experiences of loss, isolation, and longing that unite humanity. The film suggests that even though the void may be terrifying, confronting it is a necessary step towards understanding and connecting with the core of human existence.

In stark contrast to the void, the alien's quest for connection emphasizes the universal human desire for understanding and belonging. As she navigates the unfamiliar terrain of human emotions, her longing for connection underscores a fundamental aspect of humanity—the need to establish meaningful relationships. The alien's encounters highlight the fragility of these connections, as well as the potential for genuine bonds to transcend superficial differences.

But why male models?

In "Under the Skin," nudity is employed with a deliberate artistic intent rather than for gratuitous purposes even those the actress is Scarlet Johansson.

The film utilizes nudity as a tool to underscore the themes of vulnerability, identity, and humanity, while also contributing to the unsettling and otherworldly atmosphere that defines the movie.

From a cinematic standpoint, the nudity in "Under the Skin" serves several purposes:

  1. Symbolism of Vulnerability: The nudity of the men who interact with the alien character underlines their vulnerability and exposes their raw humanity. Stripped of clothing, they are figuratively and literally exposed, highlighting their innocence and susceptibility in contrast to the enigmatic and composed alien.

  2. Contrasting Identities: The alien's nudity, on the other hand, serves to emphasize her detachment from human norms. She inhabits her own skin as if it's a mere disguise, adding to the sense of her being an outsider in the human world. The juxtaposition of the alien's nudity with that of her victims reinforces her otherness and the duality of her nature.

  3. Emphasizing Authenticity: The film's minimalist approach to nudity is a way to capture authentic reactions from non-actors who were unaware they were being filmed. This approach adds a layer of realism to the scenes, heightening the film's documentary-like quality and enhancing the viewer's sense of immersion.

  4. Elevating the Unsettling Atmosphere: Nudity is one of the tools used to create an unsettling atmosphere throughout the film. The stark contrast between the alien's unflinching nudity and the reactions of her victims generates a tension that aligns with the film's exploration of human vulnerability and the unknown.

In terms of plot, the nudity plays a crucial role in advancing the narrative and themes of the film.

  1. Exploration of Humanity: The scenes involving nudity and the subsequent interactions with the alien's victims contribute to the film's exploration of humanity. The alien's encounters with these men offer glimpses into their lives, desires, and vulnerabilities. These interactions gradually humanize her and encourage her to question her own identity.

  2. Symbolic Transformation: As the alien becomes more exposed to human emotions and experiences, her own nudity becomes symbolic of her transformation. Her growing understanding of human vulnerability and connection is reflected in her increased empathy, gradually blurring the line between her alien nature and her developing humanity.

  3. Narrative Tension: The juxtaposition of the alien's detachment and the nudity of the men she encounters builds tension as viewers are confronted with the unpredictability of each encounter. This tension mirrors the broader tension between the familiar and the unknown that underlies the entire film.

Sound and Music: Sonic Discomfort

The film's auditory landscape, shaped by Mica Levi's minimalist and experimental soundtrack, is equally crucial in crafting its disconcerting atmosphere. The discordant and haunting music mirrors the alien's sense of displacement in the human world. Levi's score exploits both silence and dissonance to elevate tension, often leaving audiences with a lingering feeling of unease. The strategic use of jarring sounds and eerie melodies ensures that the sonic experience resonates deeply with the film's themes of the unknown and the uncanny.

Narrative Ambiguity: A Puzzle Unfolding

"Under the Skin" embraces narrative ambiguity as a central narrative device. The lack of overt exposition encourages viewers to engage actively with the film, piecing together its intricacies and unraveling its mysteries. This open-ended approach invites interpretations that are as diverse as the audience itself. The narrative ambiguity also mirrors the alien's journey of discovery, as it navigates the intricacies of human emotions and existence.

Conclusion: A Haunting Enigma

In conclusion, "Under the Skin" stands as a mesmerizing exploration of the human experience, encapsulating the complex interplay between identity, empathy, and the unknown. Jonathan Glazer's visionary direction, Scarlett Johansson's enigmatic performance, and the film's thematic depth collectively contribute to its enduring impact.

The film's commitment to unconventional storytelling, though potentially divisive, underscores its artistic integrity. By defying genre conventions and seamlessly melding horror, science fiction, and philosophical introspection, "Under the Skin" leaves an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape, challenging viewers to confront their own humanity and the enigmas it encompasses.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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