When we first meet Scarlett Johansson, she is carefully removing and wearing the clothes of a dead woman. Wordlessly, she climbs into a white van and for a large part of the first act we follow her as she drives around Glasgow picking up young men. Those unfortunate to accept a lift are promised sex and some bragging rights down the pub later on. What really happens is only hinted at and never properly explained. Which summarises Under The Skin as a whole really.
A lot has been made about who Johansson really is, with many articles saying up front what is only really revealed in the final ten minutes of the film. However, this semi-spoiler won’t go much further in helping you fully understand what’s truly going on. With the exception of her discourse with the gentlemen of Scotland, Johansson’s role is practically mute. When not out collecting, she wanders around Glasgow in a daze. She’s clearly not from this planet, let alone this country. In one particularly harrowing scene, she leaves a baby to drown simply because it’s not part of her plan. Whatever that may be. Whilst her actions seem atrocious, there’s an underlying sympathy that suggests she’s just following orders. A mysterious biker follows her everywhere and inspects her on occasion. Director Jonathan Glazer doesn’t allow for breakdown scenes. No one recaps why tab A has to go into tab B. It simply does.
The closing scene of Glazer’s Sexy Beast hinted at the surrealism he was capable of playing with. And whilst it isn’t going to challenge the likes of The Cremaster Cycle, its structure and pace provides enough for people to dissect afterwards if they’re inclined to do so. It is powerfully dreamy piece of filmmaking that adds a seriousness and artful tone to sci-fi that can often be missing, reminding us equally of work of Malick and Lynch and riding that thin line between cinema and modern art.
Simply put, it’s wonderful.