I never wanted to see Scarlett Johansson naked. It wasn’t on my to-do list. I hadn’t scoured Google anxiously searching for links and images. I was completely content never seeing her unmentionables.
And then I agreed to see Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” with Johansson and a bunch of people that will go down as nameless characters on a short résumé.
It’s hard for me to really know where to begin on this one. Laura (Johansson) drives around Scotland staring at people and picking up men. She then lures them back to her creepy flat, and they are never seen or heard from again. There’s full-frontal nakedness and black goo. I also debated a bit on what exactly was happening to the poor saps who fall for her bad English accent and blank stare.
The film has actually gotten some great reviews. It’s got an 86 percent of critics’ approval on Rotten Tomatoes right now and a 78 on Metacritic. The friend I went with told me it wasn’t a bad film and tried to explain its meaning.
Which could be part of my problem. If you have to explain what a film means or what incomprehensible randomness signifies, it might not be a good film for me to see. It’s not that I lack depth or have the density of a brick. For me, films are entertainment — not a puzzle to put together when you’re missing pieces.
One thing Glazer’s film does well is the imagery. As the film progresses, we’re sucked even deeper into the mystery woman who is Laura. The director truly does try to get not only under, but into, the skin of the main character and her experiences along the way.
Nothing is quick in this movie. If we’re going to get a shot of Johansson driving, it’s going to be a lengthy shot of her driving. Which might feel like 10 minutes or longer. In silence. In fact, I’m pretty certain half the film is silent while we stare at her face, random people we’ll never meet or scenery. It’s unnerving and fairly clever. And it drove me absolutely insane.
Think of a repetitive song. The Beatles’ “Let It Be” or Beyonce’s “Halo” — two songs that say the same words over and over and drive me nuts for this very reason — and you’ll get an idea of what I mean.
For the best example, let’s say “This Is the Song That Doesn’t End.” If you’re not familiar with it, Google at your own risk. The song is a repetitive loop with no surprises. So is this one’s cinematography. We set the scene. And we pause. Silently. For what seems like hours.
It’s a tactic that is meant to unsettle the viewer, I think. The more we stare at a mountain, Johannson driving or a naked man running through a field, — yes, it happens — I think we’re supposed to get lost in what we’re seeing.
Nothing is as it seems. By technical terms, Laura should be a villain. After all, she’s luring men to a gooey death. In possibly more ways than one. But yet, she’s also our central focus in this film. We watch her explore and discover the world around her, and she even takes a “Starman” like turn as she begins to change the life she’s led till now.
One man escapes the black goo, and the very nature of her actions are different. No longer is she mainly an observer of the life around her but an actual part of it.
It was at that point the film seemed to pick up for me. Previously, it had followed the same formula over and over again: Laura drives. Laura looks around. Laura has a conversation with a man, who might get in her van and be sucked into black goo. Goo happens. Repeat.
One couple got up and walked out during the movie. I wasn’t at that point, but I was struggling. It might have been the late-night showing that made my eyes droop, but “Under the Skin” proved to be less than exciting.
I won’t be recommending this movie to anyone, except insomniacs. And, anyone who wants to see Johansson naked. It’s a waste of time for everybody else.