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.]

A List of Things I’d Want to Say to Alien Life Forms

The New Yorker ran an article yesterday by Joshua Rothman titled “The Man Who Speaks for Earth.” It’s about Douglas Vakotch’s recent anthology, Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication. Vakotch is the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at SETI, which means that his job is, as you can guess from his title, to compose messages sent out to the cosmos that we wish to be received by intelligent life forms on other planets.

As odd as this whole thing is, Vakotch’s comments (and those of his contributors) are brimming with commonsense: heck, we can’t even understand each other — how are we going to understand a message from an alien life form? There are no shared cultural references, and unless we discover something like a Stargate, there will be a massive lapse of time from transmission to reception.

He also asked, just what do we really want to say to an alien civilization? Mathematical concepts are probably the easiest to decipher, but the most important things we would want to say can’t be communicated with numbers.

While I can’t offer much by way of help in this area, I think I do have a pretty workable list of things I’d like to say to any alien who might want to visit Earth someday:

1. Stay off I-95 anywhere in the country.
2. Eat Oreo cookies.
3. Eat chocolate chip cookies. Especially hot, fresh ones.
4. Same with Krispy Kreme donuts when the light is on.
5. Combine 2-4 with ice cold milk.
6. Don’t eat seafood from the Gulf.
7. The Browns suck.
8. Don’t visit Texas unless you stop by D.C. and get a green card first.
9. Visit California north of Los Angeles or south of Newport Beach.
10. If you check online you can get really good rush tickets for Broadway shows.
11. Don’t eat anything that comes in a can, box, or plastic container in any grocery store in the United States.
12. French food and wine really is good.
13. You want to select one particularly strong-willed individual to try out Wendy’s french fries. Test for addiction first. No one will be able to resist the Frosty.
14. The Black Keys are touring. So is Jack White. You don’t want to miss either of these shows. Just don’t say anything to Jack about the Black Keys.
15. Summer movies are the best. Try to see anything involving aliens. You’ll think it’s a riot.
16. Seriously… was Eric Cantor one of you guys?
17. Do not eat breakfast at McDonald’s. But, do try the coffee.
18. How about Mitch McConnell? Come on, ‘fess up.
19. Hawaii is really beautiful but it’s kinda expensive. You may need to take out a loan on your ship.
20. There is nowhere to park in Toronto. Really. Just don’t bother unless you’re willing to sell your body to someone who lives in an apartment complex with guest parking.
21. We have this thing called the internet. Just… don’t. It’s mainly storage for porn and cat photos. Huge waste of time. Except for getting rush tickets.

Any further suggestions?

%d bloggers like this: