The Best Films of the Decade: #9. Under the Skin (2014)

| January 2, 2020
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The old decade is gone, and welcome 2020. And with it, here are my 10 favorite films of the last 10 years.

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It is highly unlikely that very many casual moviegoers will have seen or even heard of Jonathan Glaser’s oddball art-brained wut-zit, but once you see it, you can’t stop thinking about it.  This is the kind of bizarre surrealist science fiction drama that never quite feels like a movie. It feels more like something you might read in a book of short stories. There is no real compulsion on the part of the director to explain what is happening or to give it any kind of catharsis. He throws away our comfortable narrative form in favor of a story that is laid out in bits and pieces, with images that we don’t immediately understand so that we find ourselves playing them back in our minds later in an attempt to sort them out. Glaser’s film is cold, spare and often without purpose or meaning. It is challenging in every sense of the word.

The story sounds reasonable enough (or ridiculous depending on who you ask).  It is the story of a being from another world, played in a peculiar performance by Scarlett Johannsen, whose mission on Earth leads her to adopt the skin of a dead streetwalker, recast herself as a woman named Laura, then drive a van around a backwater town in Scotland picking up lonely, sexually-wayward young men.  The temptation is a hook to draw them back to her mother ship where they will be removed from their skins and then . . . I’m not entirely sure.  Are they processed as food?  Fuel?  A sacrifice?

But that’s only the first act.  Through her mission, Laura begins to find human beings and their customs to be kind of tantalizing, so much so that she abandons her mission in order to be one of us.  What happens in that regard, I will leave you to discover.  Suffice to say what starts out as an alien horror story becomes an interesting allegory about the natural of being human.  Although, it should be said, this is a movie with a bitter cold heart. 

When I first saw the film six years ago, I knew I’d seen something strange and original, but damned if I could explain it or even describe what I had just seen. Over the past few days though, the film has had time to marinate in my psyche. I take away from the film a lot of imagery that I’ve tried to piece together. The images were laid out, but my imagination is providing the connective tissue. I am eager to take the journey again. It’s bold, it’s challenging, it’s frustrating, and it’s difficult and it’s kind of brilliant too.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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