Her Fullest Flowering

Under The Skin

Containers and contents, assimilation, rejection, the lust red lips of Scarlett Johansson – these are the obsessions of Under The Skin. The huntress is an alien interloper, a femme fatale, an apex predator. She has come to gather human meat for unspecified purposes. From the outset the film dwells on the corporeal: a glistening vein of road is exposed against a cadaver of darkened moorland. Soon a real corpse is revealed: her predecessor.

The femme fatale is irresistible and yet terrifying to the human male because she usurps the supposedly male traits of initiative and assertiveness. He is simultaneously flattered and emasculated by her seduction, so that he feels he must conquer her and win her body for his prize. The huntress appears to be ignorant of all this. Her method is a parody; the process of seduction is laid bare against an inky black background with the stark clarity of a tissue sample on a glass slide. As she performs her routine, the soundtrack strains for the language of desire and consummation but instead it speaks of dense flesh and razor blades. She has no notion why these men wade into the stupefying void in pursuit of her.

She tries to derive some meaning from the inscrutable habits and rituals of humanity, but she comes no closer to becoming one of us. In bewilderment she continues her pursuit of prey whose animal noises she has learned to mimic and whose motives she has no hope of understanding. Meanwhile she is inreasingly aware that her own mind is not a stable promontory from which to conduct her observations. Her head is too full, holding two identities, two separate modes of being. She struggles to reconcile the memory of who she once was with the reality of the unfamiliar vessel she occupies. What is inside cannot be cut away cleanly and repackaged; the huntress hides a bruised and misshapen self under her skin.

When finally her psyche comes completely untethered, she looks in the mirror and does not reject what she sees as merely a disguise. The self acknowledges this reflection and accepts it. Panic ensues. She releases her most recent victim, a disfigured man to whose affliction she remained oblivious, and takes flight from her hunting ground. She tries to fake it as a human female, but her deception is doomed to fail so long as her soul is adrift. She ends up wandering in remote woodland, searching for a place to hibernate and in sleep to form a new nucleus of identity that will glom to the human vessel. It is here that she becomes an object of interest to a human male with an appetite for sexual violence.

Perhaps it always ends like this, with each incarnation of the huntress losing her mind and being destroyed before she does harm to the project. We can but imagine the new thing she might have become in her fullest flowering: a creature born of another world, hybrid, in total possession of its human appearance. Instead she must make do with one final look at the skin she never learned to inhabit, before she is obliterated by her prey.