Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Third Film by Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer's third film was my highest anticipated title of 2014. He's so far proven himself as creator of the glossiest commercial intimate chamber drama concoctions cinematically, Sexy Beast (2000) and Birth (2004). And all I knew going in to the new one was the premise: Scarlett Johansson plays a life form from another planet that drives around in a van and lures men into having sex with her. By the way, Birth is still one of my all time least satisfying premises (a woman meets an adolescent boy who claims to be her dead husband) and I wonder if Glazer tried to find a better pitch because he sure went for the polar opposite this time.

Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer) was released amidst labels in the press calling Glazer an heir to Kubrick. David Fincher's first trailer for Gone Girl (2014, Fincher) looks like he's definitely up to the large scale fluid ballets of symmetry and composition that Kubrick achieved, but Fincher is more impressionist. And Fincher is kind of a sellout when it comes to his narratives--but that's not a fault and it's an entire different discussion. Jonathan Glazer with Under the Skin has gone into territory that is new for him, abstract expressionism.

Under the Skin is an installation. You experience it. Kind of like Hunger (2008, Steve McQueen). You don't really have to do much. Johansson's alien picks up guys. Each individual encounter seems to represent the various types of encounters a guy can have when presented with an opportunity to have sex with a beautiful girl. It's very documentary like in this sense. There's not much to say, which is good.

The score follows a current vogue of wall to wall presence. The string arrangement seems to encounter two tones: suspense/menace and rapture/tenderness. But it's cold like the tone of the movie, the telling of the story, Johansson's acting, the lack of dialogue, the Scottish bucolic desolate exteriors, and the nihilism. And it's cool as shit.

The film comes off like Starman (1984, John Carpenter) meets Shame (2011, Steve McQueen) but from the point of view of a female protagonist. But it also feels a lot like Electroma (2006, Daft Punk) in its third act--namely the resolution that once an alien gets to know humans they are utterly destroyed by humanity's dark nature.

As an installation we get tons of exterior Scottish grand vista cinematography and real life street scenes with a montage of faces using a blend of multiple exposures to evoke a swirly abstraction of form. This is all complemented by a few set pieces in a mysterious dark layer where Glazer really relishes in the eye candy and eye poison.

Here I go again maybe over-doing it with the comparisons, but this whole tone felt to me like Bruno Dumont. Bruno Dumont is currently the farthest thing from Hollywood commercial practices while still committing to a fictional narrative and Jonathan Glazer's style here is what's most impressive about Under the Skin. I'm glad with all of his promise he's still managing to be original. That's the highest complement I can give Under the Skin, its set pieces continually prevent plot questions and it just happens. I kept wondering where it was going and it kept surprising me.

I don't think this is about revelations into human nature. I think its an object of beauty about an object of beauty.


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