Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Under the Skin

Under the Skin
seen @ Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY
4.22.14

A Twitter friend recently described a brief encounter in which some dude on the street verbally harassed her - you know, saying how "hot" she was while passing by in his car, that sort of thing. It's the kind of incident that happens to many young women, only in this particular case, it happened back when the weather was colder and she was wearing a thick coat. She was able to put it in perspective, though; she tweeted that whenever a guy does this, it's not about looks, it's about being a woman alone.

I thought of that as I watched Under the Skin yesterday, an amazing movie that's difficult to describe. It's a singular visual and auditory experience unlike anything else I've seen this year, but if there was one idea that resonated with me as I watched, it was the notion of aloneness, of isolation. Scarlett Johansson's character is alone in a sense, being an extraterrestrial among humans (though she does have at least one accomplice), as are the young men she ensnares for some nefarious yet unexplained purpose.


Something about being alone, however, stuck out for me, and not just because it figures into the plot. I think it has something to do with how one is perceived when they're alone as opposed to being with others, as alluded to in the example of my Twitter friend. Johannsson's unnamed character emulates humanity well: she dresses like a human, drives a car like one, and talks to people like one, and no one suspects any different, even though it's all a lie - skin deep, you could say. Her looks are important; she uses seduction to lure the young men into her trap. The fact that she's alone makes her less threatening.

I'm constantly aware of how strangers perceive me when I'm alone. My size gets me a lotta "big man" remarks, particularly from homeless people who want money, but from other strangers as well. I don't like it. It makes me feel self-conscious. I mean, these people probably think they're putting me at ease by saying that, but in fact it's just the opposite. Whenever I'm traveling somewhere, be it by bus or train or just walking, I wanna be left alone. In a city the size of New York, though, that's difficult, because there's always somebody hustling you for something (and being black, I get hustled harder by other black people).


Also, when I'm alone, I can come across as being very dour. I know this because sooner or later, there's somebody urging me to smile for whatever reason, especially when I don't feel like smiling. A recent example: my sister Lynne and her husband are musicians, and I was working the door at one of their band's live shows in the city, taking tickets. I didn't particularly wanna be there that night, but I promised her I would, so I did. Many, if not all, of the audience were friends of hers, and a number of them were the type that acts overly familiar with you, even if you're a total stranger. 

I certainly wasn't interested in having conversations with anyone; I just tried to do my job, but what I thought was dispassionate professionalism struck this one woman as being dour, so she urged me to smile. My instinct was to bash her head in for being so goddamn presumptuous, but I couldn't embarrass Lynne, so I made a fake grin, which seemed to satisfy this lady.


Being alone makes you more vulnerable to other people's perceptions, which you can't control. They think they know you, they think they can be your friend, they think they can scam you, they think they have some proprietary right to your time (or worse, your body), and while their ulterior motives may be totally benign and harmless, you never know when someone will lure you back to their place for what you think will be sex only to sink into some kinda liquid-y goo and have your insides sucked out.

I found Skin fascinating but very disturbing as well. I don't want to get into the major Plot Twist that changes the nature of Johansson's character and the movie as well, because it's something you absolutely need to experience first-hand. I will say, though, that it ties into the concept of isolation, but from a different angle. (I think I know what really happened, though - as opposed to what appeared to happen. If you've seen it and you wanna talk about it, save it for the comments.)


ScarJo has come a hell of a long way. It's nice to know that she's still willing to take roles as unique as this now that she's a legitimate star. She's never been sexier than she is here, but oddly enough, her nude scenes here aren't quite sexual. She takes a detached approach to her fabulous body in Skin because it's as alien to her (in more ways than one, if my theory on the Twist is correct) as this world. She's not so much acting as being.

The score is also an important factor in Skin. In places, it's not so much music as it is ambient sound, especially in the 2001-esque beginning, where you're not quite sure what it is you're seeing or hearing (I thought it was ScarJo's character trying to learn English).

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