REVIEW – Under The Skin

Hale and hearty 2015!
To try and keep things updating here and give the site a little more constant activity, I’m moving my facebook reviews over to website posts. They’ll still update into the HOLLANDSCOTTTHOMAS page automatically, but meanwhile…

UNDER THE SKIN (WR: Michel Faber, 2000)
UNDER THE SKIN (DIR: Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
Having just finished the book and then revisiting the film on the tails of it, my first review of 2015 is both a comparison of the two and actually among the last things I consumed during the latter part of last year.
Generally speaking, it’s a much better idea for a film to focus on a particular thematic arc when adapting from a novel given the extremely condensed amount of time it has to tell the story comparatively. As such, Glazer’s film eschews much of the behind-the-scenes character development of a woman who’s not really a woman nor even human at all. In Faber’s original telling, there’s a significant fleshing out of the purpose behind her nightly drives to pick up male hitchhikers in remote Scotland and kidnapping them once she’s established that there is no-one in their lives that would notice – there’s a much stronger lean towards themes of class and “sub”-humanism and the exploitation of perceived “lesser” creatures. Inner monologue and ethical philosophising made the “woman” (‘Isserley’, in the book) and her horrid experiences with the people she works with and for more about her inability to conceive humans as advanced and complex enough to warrant classification as anything other than just, say, livestock.
Glazer, on the other hand, latches onto a single element of Scarlett Johansson’s unnamed protagonists’s mission to bring these men back to her lair and instead focuses pointedly on the power of sex that women can command over men and the vulnerability on flipside of the coin. It mostly abandons dialogue (and forgoes expository dialogue entirely) to create something cold, alienated, abstracted and horrifying while remaining chillingly beautiful. It contains some of the most striking visuals of any film I saw last year (and would be a contender for some of the most unnervingly enigmatic sequences ever captured), and is all the stronger for sticking to a very streamlined idea and executing it without flinching.
So while I enjoyed both (the scene in the book depicting what actually happens to the men she brings back will stick with me a while, while in the film you never exactly find out), I feel the Glazer version was a better, more specific take. And as I said the first time around, any movie that can make the screen-time of a naked Scarlett supremely discomforting to watch has got to be working on some other level.

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