I’ve made the point before that I will not award a 10/10 rating to a movie until some time has passed after watching. A 10 rating indicates not only something truly great, but a timeless film for the ages — a masterpiece. A classification not to be doled out haphazardly. Though just three months have passed since watching Under the Skin, its memory continues to pervade my consciousness. It is a haunting film that has made an indelible mark on the landscape of cinema, and a lasting impression on me. A film that I’ve not only thought about a great deal, but that has found its way into my dreams. And the time has come to award it my 10 rating.
For such a short time to have passed, this is a bit of a risk for me. I would look foolish if a year or two or ten from now I reflected again on Under the Skin and felt it did not warrant a 10 rating. It is a testament to how strongly I feel about the movie that I’m placing the 10/10 label on it so soon.
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If you read my original review, understand that my analogy to a cross between Holy Motors and Eraserhead, though still valid, is no longer the way I would couch a discussion of Under the Skin. That was my best effort at wrapping my head around this extraordinary film, of digesting it immediately upon consumption. My understanding of the film has deepened since then, and I realize now that it demands to be dealt with strictly on its own. It is so unique that comparison to other movies is not particularly useful to gain an understanding of it, except as an academic exercise.
But indulge me for a moment while I contradict myself. In a state that was half waking and half sleeping, another comparison came to me: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Based on Under the Skin, the filmmaker Jonathan Glazer has been compared by at least one critic to Stanley Kubrick. There are a couple visuals that bring to mind 2001; I cite examples below.
But beyond the obvious, Under the Skin may be seen as an incredible twist on 2001, and here it is: in 2001, we had the monolith. But here, the girl is the monolith. Her body — whatever that exactly is, her charming ways, her black pool, her entire alien presence. The monolith has returned to earth, but it has folded in on itself and become this very human, and simultaneously very alien sexual being. The blackness, the void — all the abstract and mystical bounds of humanity represented by the monolith of 2001 are now embodied with this young woman. Instead of the monolith as something seen from afar, and hesitantly approached for a closer glimpse or a touch, it has now become something you enter, something that envelops you.
Now mind you, I don’t believe Glazer or the novelist Michel Faber had 2001 in mind at all when composing Under the Skin. But you can tell that this movie has fired up a lot of synapses in my brain. Know too that the whole idea of an interpretation of Under the Skin as a greatly distorted retelling of 2001 is but one point of discussion, not a way to contain, define or delineate it in any way.
Continued analysis, discussion and debate are often the fruits of a masterwork.
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This is one of those rare moments when a movie can just knock you over the head and flatten you. Under the Skin operates on different levels: as a mystery, as a tale of survival, and as an exploration of sexuality and humanity. Its profound depth is reinforced by its haunting, aptly-science fiction score and a darkened Scottish setting. Just phenomenal.
With a movie this great, it doesn’t matter much to me what other critics are saying, but the high praise it has received is, I admit, reassuring. Check out the official site and its culling of criticism — what might be hyperbole for a lesser film is anything but for this one.
But there were some negative reactions, among both professional critics and amateurs. On Amazon, it only has a 2 1/2 out of 5 star rating. A typical review:
A very beautifully photographed, but very odd film. Director was clearly a fan of Kubrick. Long, slow scenes with not much going on. Not appropriate for younger viewers and people that enjoy a faster pace.
Now I normally am not interested in citing dissent, but I have a point to make. People who did not like this movie all have one thing in common: they just didn’t get it. It went way over their head. And I get that. That’s the first level I mentioned: a mystery. A mystery for the viewer to figure out. Only then do the other two levels reveal themselves — that of the survival adventure of the “lioness on the prowl”, as Scarlett Johansson put it, and then that of an exploration into human sexuality.
So my point here is the fact that so many people did not like it does not indicate weakness or a lack of quality, but exactly the opposite. A lot of people will be out of their depth with Under the Skin, and will not be able to get anything out of it. As I said, I get that. I had my hands full trying to comprehend this movie as I sat through it. But if you can grasp it at all, it will stay with you. You’ll be able to attain your own ways of understanding it. And like any truly great art, its greatness will only expand from there.
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Lest I forget to mention, there are now iTunes Extras available when you purchase the movie from Apple — this, and the upgrade to a 10 rating, constituted my original impetus for this post before I decided I had a helluva lot more to say.
The Extras are only available with the purchase (not rental) of the movie in HD ($15), and include 10 featurettes. My inclination is that if I’m going to buy this movie, I’d rather have the Blu-Ray disc. Now a check on Amazon does not mention the Extras, but I found a review of the Blu-Ray that confirms the featurettes are included. So if I decide to purchase the movie, I’ll get it on Blu-Ray, and perhaps return it if the featurettes are not there. I don’t recommend anyone purchase the movie unless they’ve already seen it.
Personally, this movie is still so vividly held in my memory that I don’t feel a need to purchase it — yet. But those featurettes I am curious about, so I will probably buy it sooner than later.