A Conversation about Under the Skin

Under the Skin PosterLast night I had the opportunity to watch Under the Skin (2013), a relatively low-budget sci-fi film ($13 million production costs with a box office, so far, of about $6 million) starring Scarlett Johansson. The film’s production values were surprising — there are a high number of non-actors in the film playing roles that parallel their real lives (see its Wikipedia entry). The film was so weird I had to talk to my wife about it afterwards. Annnd… spoilers.

Me: Man that was weird.

Sheridan: That film you tried to get me to see?

Me: I didn’t think you’d see it. It’s a weird sci-fi film. This alien comes to earth wearing a woman’s skin over its (her?) body — that’s Scarlett Johansson — then lures men back into her apartment where she leads them into a long, black room. She walks through the room undressing herself, and they undress while following her, and when the man is completely naked, he sinks into some kind of liquid. It sucks everything out of his skin — blood, bones, everything — like a spider sucking on an insect, and the sucked out stuff goes down some conveyor to somewhere for some reason. Some of the scenes are really disturbing [I didn’t tell her about a beach scene in which a family dies and a small baby is abandoned]. But because she’s in this human skin she starts to feel what human beings feel and quits recruiting men. She tries to eat chocolate cake, but can’t, and spits it out. She tries to have sex, but can’t, because it might rip her suit. She runs away into a forest and is found by a logger who tries to rape her, but he tears the skin suit and sees this black creature underneath it, so he runs away. She tears off the rest of her skin and we see this black humanoid creature, and when the logger comes back, he dumps gas on her and sets her on fire. The film ends with her burning to death as the ashes rise up into the sky.

Sheridan: That’s weird.

Me: Yeah… it’s like an allegory for how alone we are, I think, and perhaps especially for what it’s like being a beautiful woman, in her skin. I think it’s really about not what’s under the skin, but about the skin itself — how much our feelings contribute to and form our humanity.

Sheridan: Why do you watch this stuff?

Me: It was really a beautiful film. Beautifully shot. Haunting, disturbing. And Scarlett Johansson was totally naked. Full frontal nudity. I think the film should win an Academy Award. Best Picture. Definitely Best Cinematography.

Sheridan: That’s weird too.

Me: Right. She’s never done that before. Not even topless scenes. I mean, you look waay better, but…

Sheridan: I’m taller than her.

Me: Really?

Sheridan: [Smiling] Yes. She’s 5’2″. I’m 5’3″.

Me: She looks bigger on the screen. Like on a 40′ screen.

Sheridan: I’ve only seen her on television. Like a 2′ screen.

Me: How did you know that? Have you been looking her up?

Sheridan: Well, she’s been trending lately, pictures of her in maternity clothes.

Me: She’s pregnant? I didn’t think she was even married.

Sheridan: If she’s pregnant, she’s married. Wasn’t she with Ryan Reynolds?

Me: I thought I heard they broke up. And he’s stupid. She’s usually able to act very intelligent characters well at least. OH and that explains the nude scene. It’s like a last farewell to her pre-pregnancy body. That, and maybe because of those leaked pictures. Maybe she wanted to be in control of it this time.

Sheridan: She couldn’t know she was going to be pregnant the next year.

Me: She could know she was going to try.

Sheridan: But she couldn’t know she’d get pregnant.

Me: But yeah, she could know she was going to try.

[I think it went on like this for awhile, and then we forgot what we were talking about. If Sheridan sounds like a bit part in this conversation, that’s because she was. She doesn’t actually like talking with me about films. She almost tolerates talking to me about films. You need to picture her making the bed the whole time we’re having this conversation.]

Published by James Rovira

Dr. James Rovira is higher education professional with twenty years experience in the field in teaching, administration, and advising roles. He is also an interdisciplinary scholar and writer whose works include fiction, poetry, and scholarship exploring the intersections of literature and philosophy, literature and psychology, literary theory, and music and literature.. His books include Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2023); David Bowie and Romanticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022); Writing for College and Beyond (a first-year composition textbook (Lulu 2019)); Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History (Lexington Books 2019); Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018); Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); and Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2010). See his website at jamesrovira.com for details.

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