Only Connect

Tough week? Looking for an easily digestible slice of cinematic entertainment – something warm and gooey that will leave you with a soft fuzzy feeling as you step out of the local multiplex into the cold night air? If so, Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin probably isn’t the film you’re after. That said, this is without question the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
It tells the story of Laura, an alien, played by Scarlett Johansson, at large in modern-day Glasgow where, disguised as an alluring young woman, she hunts for human prey. She’s supported by a squadron of bikers who police her actions and tidy up any loose ends that might betray her. The film opens with the construction of the simulated eyes through which Laura will view the world and at no stage does the film deviate from her perspective. Insulated in her white van, she prowls impassively for victims, as the busy city bustles and flows around her. In these sequences, Glazer used secret cameras to capture ordinary members of the public going about their daily lives, oblivious both to his intentions as a director and to the intentions of his extra-terrestrial heroine. As a distancing technique, this works incredibly well, enabling the audience to share the central character’s perception of human activity as remote and impenetrable. At times, it feels as if we’re viewing ants swarming over an anthill.
The implications of Laura’s other-world alienation are soon forcibly brought home in a breath-takingly charged scene at a remote beach where a family tragedy unfolds before her uncomprehending eyes. Then gradually something begins to change. An unlooked-for gift of flowers brings with it a troubling touch of wet, red blood. She becomes curious. In another scene, the Laura encourages her latest victim, a young man with neurofibromatosis, to reach out to her with the words, “when was the last time you touched somebody?” The moment that follows is excruciatingly tender, full of the young man’s incredulity and longing, so when the time comes for Laura to finish him off, she’s unable to go through with it and he escapes her clutches. Having broken the rules under which she’s operating, she’s left with no choice but to run from her minders. She soon realises she’s painfully ill-equipped to survive alone in the hostile terrain of the planet earth. Struggling to make sense of the human world and realising her only hope is to connect with its inhabitants, her fate is sealed by her inability to feel as humans do or read their intentions.
Under the Skin is not an easy film an easy watch or interpret. Raising disturbing questions about alienation, sexuality and what it means to be human, it’s more of a film to think about and reflect on, than one to enjoy as such. All the same, as a piece of cinematic writing, it works brilliantly with a simple, yet profound story focused on a central character who is forced to change by circumstances beyond her control. The cinematography is likewise fantastic, with gorgeously luminous photography of the Scottish winter landscape intercut with terrifying images from the sci-fi lexicon, which evoke the dark, gelatinous limbo into which Laura’s victims are sucked and digested – a kind of womb in reverse. Yet even here, what survives is the human instinct to reach out and connect. All this is underpinned by a mesmerizingly beautiful sound-track by Mica Levy that brings both coherence and an eerily mysterious quality to the piece.
I confess I find it immensely encouraging that films of this calibre are being made and financed in Britain. Under the Skin may not be to everyone’s taste; it’s about as far as you can get from the usual Hollywood fare. Don’t get me wrong – I love comedies and thrillers as much as the next person and sometimes a bit of mindless escapism is exactly what you need, but it’s good to be challenged, spooked and provoked too and this film does exactly that.

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4 Comments

Filed under Art, Film, Screenwriting, Writing

4 responses to “Only Connect

  1. I have noted the name of this film; I have to admit to not being much of a film buff and not having heard of this one before. I shall certainly look out for it, as it sounds to be well worth the time to watch.

  2. Your review of this film was very well written, and from your description, sounds just the sort of film I would like. And being a semi frequent visitor to Glasgow adds to the appeal. Thanks for posting…

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