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« Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Under the Skin | Main | Beauty Break: "I like thinking about the red dress..." »
Tuesday
Jul222014

Under the Skin and Into the Fog

Formless void and darkness. And then light, blinding light. Jonathan Glazer and his gifted cinematographer Daniel Landin present them in that Biblical order. They toy with them for the remainder of Under the Skin, separating them like they're playing god.

Honorable Mention

Perhaps they are since this haunting film begins, as far as I can tell, with Creation, or a creation of sorts. Is it our protagonist being formed (?) or, rather, assuming a new form complete with vocal exercizes to play the role. (The mystery woman is never named in Under the Skin, and none of the men she entices and lures into her formless void, ever think to ask her for it so we'll refer to her as "She" or "Her" since it's Scarlett Johansson we're talking about). What She needs language for is something of a mystery. She seems to communicate best telepathically in the eery repeated shots of her and her driver/accomplice staring at each other or staring into windows / mirrors. That's as good an explanation as any for how she understands the thick Scottish brogues around her when English is not her mother tongue.

Though the details of what exactly is occuring in any given sequence of this great picture are often indecipherable, the artistry of the film is not. It's alternating visual schemes of darkness and light, its elemental preoccupations (water, air, fire... and, well Earth, all play key roles) and its weird asides (the blinking mask, that golden shimmer interlude, the cake!) and Scarlett's fascinatingly alien comportment all prove more rewarding on second viewing. 

Runner Up

The most powerful recurring image and in some ways the most inexplicably frightening is watching the men slowly sink into blackness, like sailors willfully drowning for a siren's call. You may have your own ideas about what exactly She is harvesting their skin for but I assumed it was the creation of more faux humans like herself. And if so, how perverse that Creation is always doubling as Destruction. 

And speaking of perversity, Here's my choice for Best Shot, below. In a film full of startling imagery, it's something as mundane as a car on the road, and a woman in the fog, from the point of view of a car's dashboard. It's a visual choice as it continues the film's often ingenious play on stark blacks and bright whites while reversing the now familiar feeling of men swallowed up in blackness. It's a narrative choice, marking as it does the transition to the film's last act and reverses our usual view of looking out the car's window with her and for a moment, the same view looking at her. It's an emotional choice as I forgot to breath watching it. She has rejected her calling, an apostate suddenly wandering in a strange land without purpose.

Best Shot. Into the Fog

Glazer leaves us waiting for Her return a full 14 seconds before we join her in the fog. Her emotions are still totally alien to us as she rotates in place, staring into the liquid air. Looking for what? Everything that should be mundane, including this view from inside a car we've spent half the film in, is riddled with complexity and eery wonder. Glazer has the power to render the familiar alien and by the film's end, and rather movingly, the alien familiar.

I'm not otherwise a religious person but the cinema is my church and Jonathan Glazer is one of the new gods. I've watched Under the Skin twice now, both times with equal parts reverent awe and abject fear. I'm a true believer. 

See the whole roster of chosen shots from 22 other HMWYBS participants

 

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Reader Comments (6)

I love this movie so much - can't wait to see it again, and to see the rest of the shots.
I've been thinking lately how differently I watch movies now then when I was in my teens/early 20s. I watch them a lot more completely, but I don't get so completely emotionally mind-blown as I did when I was younger, which is probably why so many movies from around 93-01 give me a visceral emotion memory. I suspect that's kind of a universal thing.
All that to say that Under the Skin made me feel like a teenager watching it, and I imagine the feeling of watching it will be with me a long time.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I love how the cast is just a list of names.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

love, love this post, nathaniel! so eloquently written and precise on a movie that's hard to pin down.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

That whole fog sequence is such a fascinating turn of the tides for the character. Throws everything off balance and sets her on a totally new path. It's like she stepped into a whole other dimension.

Somewhere in there, there's a joke about her coming from Stephen King's The Mist.

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

abstew -- thank you.

joey -- i know! and some of them weren't acting which makes it even more odd

Mike -- i believe it is... i sometimes wonder which movies i would be into know if i was watching them as the teenage me or early 20s me

Mark -- it's my favorite sequence. actually i almost went with the second image you chose.

July 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Such a great shot; I don't even know how everyone is capable of narrowing it down to just one, but I like that you chose to other honorees, which are both excellent!

July 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

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