Under The Skin by Jonathan Glazer – A small read on the film
Under The Skin is a Sci-Fi thriller based on a novel by Michel Faber. The adaptation is fascinating in terms of British director Jonathan Glazer’s rich visual language and how he layers his film with symbols and metaphors around its interesting plot.
“A voluptuous woman of unknown origin combs the highway in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again.”
The film opens with as a small white dot in the middle of total darkness. It is neither explained nor reasoned with by any scientific narrative (unlike many Sci-Fi scripts). I wondered what the link was about until the mid-part of the film. The metaphor may have been the “light at the end of the tunnel”. This “light at the end of the tunnel” visually makes a lot more sense once you enter the nameless female alien’s “black cave of desire”. Now, this “Fatalien” (that’s the name I have given her- a drive from fatale+alien) is a walking talking Siren Call. A (literally!) deadly desire object that drives men (she literally drives them, too) into her life. Men gradually get naked following their desire object and get drowned in a black liquid. After witnessing a couple of these men getting lost in this black liquid, we finally see what is inside. It is created by Glazer as a completely dark place where men hang naked in dense liquid. They are shown in a “primal position”, like embryos in their mother’s womb. The place where this “prey” ends up is a metaphorical womb. A reverse birth. They enter the house fully clothed, get naked, step into the liquid and get finally sucked empty, leaving behind only their skin, having turned into “a piece of meat” – just how we all started. Here, I believe Glazer plays with Sigmund Freud’s popular argument that for men having coitus is like going back to the safe and peaceful place of the “womb”, where they existed before suffering the trauma of “birth’. We were all born with this trauma. Leaving the 36 degree warm and safe womb and entering a colder environment, breathing for the first time. The poignant nature of oxygen in our lungs. The pain in our eyes from light after pitch darkness.We don’t remember these (at least I don’t!), but on an unconscious level our emotion memory remembers this trauma and may register life as shaped by “trauma and pain”. That’s why men pursue to go back to a pre-birth stage through coitus. Hence the “light at the end of the tunnel”.
When the “fatalien” is an emotionless alien preying on men, she appears strong and predator-like.As soon as she starts to develop emotions, however, she becomes vulnerable and weak. The more she is ‘humanized’, the weaker she becomes. And at the end she finds herself subjected to a rape attack by a male. Again an amazing coincidence?! She could only protect herself from this sexual attack by becoming “the alien” again. So what does the director tell us here about women, desire and life?