With each catch of her prey, Laura [Scarlett Johansson] becomes increasingly undressed. The first is easy – she simply unzips her shirt and looks back, coyly. By her last catch, she is completely naked as her prey follows, so hypnotized they don’t even notice as they are swallowed into the glassy black floor. Under the floor they turn into bubbly balloons, bursting when their skin is soggy enough into a bloody slurry Laura’s alien character uses for a mysterious, secret purpose. These scenes are a visual wonder, and almost impossible to describe. Like the movie, they have to be experienced.
Under the Skin explores the two sides of humanity in stages – the confidence of getting what you want, then the nervousness and hesitation of not knowing what you want or how to get it. Initially, and confidently, Laura does familiar dull things to catch a man: driving around endlessly, the pointless game of flirting, searching for a mate that fits your standards and also finds you attractive. Laura’s expressionless alien fits right in – she is strikingly beautiful, but stomps around as if in a determined sleepwalk. She never is attached to anyone nor does anyone feel attached to her. Is her experience really all that different from being human? Laura glides through Scotland soundlessly in her van, inviting men who fit her standards [single, alone, and not freaked out by her van] back to her run-down, isolated house. In this house is her web – the reflective black floor that no one questions.
After she hypnotizes Tim, a facially disfigured man [and the only one ever to be suspicious of her], back to her house, she starts to see herself differently. This begins the movie’s exploration of insecurity. As she sees a fly trying in vain to get out through a closed door, she makes a connection – the men are just her flies. To be human is to make connections. Examining her face in a mirror, it is the first time she has had a visible emotion – pity. Confused by her rather obvious beauty and Tim’s difference from it, she starts to change from the outside in. This brings out a need in her to explore her humanity, and her skin. She watches people instead of hunting them. Overwhelmed in the city, Laura stumbles through rocky forest just to experience the rain, the fear of slipping, footsteps finally hesitant.
Watching, for once empathizing, with the human version of Laura, I became nervous for her. What about all the bad feelings, and experiences, that can come with living? After all, Laura isn’t the type of alien with superpowers, just a really creepy death-pool. Being human opens her up to pain. Laura finds herself hunted, and quickly becomes scared and weary of this human experiment. She peels off her defining trait – her skin.
What is underneath, I must leave to you. While the pacing and length of Under the Skin will test most viewers’ patience, its’ beauty is far worth it. It soaks in the feelings of Laura’s brief existence – good, bad, mesmerizing, melancholy, and visually stunning. One’s beauty does not determine how isolated, how alien they may feel inside. Life is nothing without the feelings, as scary and painful as they can be. Take those away, and you have nothing but a hunt and a cage – the betrayal of the skin.