Advertisement, Blank Slates and Sexual Pursuance If, theoretically of course, and alien came to our planet earth, just how easy would it be for them to blend, to become invisible? Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” explores the seemingly small mission of an alien, disguised as a beautiful woman, who’s mission it is to eliminate men who desire her for her looks. While it’s intentioned as an offbeat, non-traditional sci fi horror, standing against the grain of traditional science fiction films touting the achievements of mankind scientific strength, Under the Skin manages to comment much more about ankind’s failures.
It’s often clashing narrative explores blank slate theories, societal expectations, and sexualization in the postmodern world. Under the Skin begins with a simple premise, The Woman’ played by Scarlett Johansson,is under contract of another mysterious, emotionless figure who will be called ‘Motorcycle Man’ from here on out. ‘Motorcycle Man’ begins the action of the film by retrieving a body from a shallow ditch beside a freeway, returning her to a blank room. It’s obvious she has been killed, and even more obvious that the man acts illegally.
He handles the body as if it’s an object, howing no emotion or remorse for the woman, who in her time alive, was quite beautiful. Motorcycle Man then returns the body to the woman, who begins stripping her of her clothes, and putting them on herself. The woman acts similarly to the man, showing absolutely no emotion for the loss of the woman, and instead focuses on the mission at hand. A tear rolls down the corpse’s face, but the woman once again skips over this, almost as if she’s just as incapable of reading emotions as she is in displaying them.
But then, the woman is stopped. While unclasping the now naked cadavers jewelry, a small ant from he side of the freeway crawls onto the woman’s hand, and this of all the inconspicuous details manages to stop her. The pause, the single instance of emotion, curiosity that is, will repeat throughout the film, and signals a defining theme of the work, as well as the postmodern theory. The woman was as blank a slate as the cold white room that surrounded her while she worked. However, almost like a newborn crawling for the first time, her experiences begin to shape her moral being.
Blank slate theory is discussed as early as aristotle, where in writings ‘De Anima’ or ‘On the Soul’, he states “though actually it [the ind] is nothing until it has thought? What it thinks must be in iit just as characters may be said to be on a writing-tablet on which as yet nothing stands written. ” In this context, the woman’s earliest actions indicate a classical spirit of thought as opposed to a postmodern one, as the woman begins to alter her morality as she encounters new, thought provoking experiences. As her mission commences, we see motorcycle man immediately begins to question her aptitude in the position she has been given.
It’s obvious these ‘beings’ do have some varying degrees of emotion, but they seem to be geared only to the success of heir mission. The woman shows curiosity for the little life that crawled onto her finger, and the man expresses doubt that she can remain emotionless throughout the course of her mission. Throughout the progression of the film, the woman needs to repeatedly lure men with promise of sexual favours, and then murder them in vats of colourless liquid, where their skin will be used for undisclosed reasons. Initially she finds little success in her flirtations.
The men she meets while driving, played by men who didn’t know they’d were being filmed, flirt and seem proud f the conversation they’ve just struck up with the woman far more attractive than themselves, but none take the bait. Continuing in her relentless maurad, the woman finds herself in a shopping mall, where Jonathan Glazer’s use of montage exposes the woman to a barrage of advertisements, makeup tutorials and fashionable apparel. She follows the lead of the many women there before her, and hastily buys makeup, which she applies to her face and continuous on her mission of murder.
With her newfound knowledge of the ‘beauty industrial complex’, (so simple and so forward even an alien can figure it ut) the woman is easily able to lure men in quick succession, who in a blinded state of lust follow the woman to their doom. Further emphasising her inhumanity, she follows an Austrian surfer to a remote beach where he self proclaims to “try and get away from it all. ” In the distance, a couple begins to be drug in the surf out into the rough seas, while their infant child watches from the rocky coast.
The Austrian surfer attempts to break into the surf, but is unable to and collapses exhausted onto the beach, to which the woman replies with bludgeoning him to death with a rock. She drags the body to her van, all the while the crying baby remains on the beach with his parents now gone. Despite her seemingly emotional lapse in her introductory scene, it’s clear that she performs her mission with ruthless efficiency, killing 3 men who had only been pleasant to her, and dooming a family of 3, including an infant, to death.
Despite her ruthlessness, recurring emotional lapses, (seen as vulnerabilities to her mission) occur. While walking through a street, she trips and is helped up, and her greatest hesitation of all comes when she lures a disfigured man, who probably hould have been her easiest bait, and ends up letting him go because she begins to feel sorry for him. With her empathy for the men she’s been sent to lure full blown, she abandons her mission and attempts to run from the Motorcycle man. It becomes evident that her emotional transformation throughout the film is nearing completion.
She started as a blank slate, incapable of showing emotion, to understanding the emotional toll of disfigurement, isolation, and alienation. Now would this idea be an example of postmodern thought? Well, that’s left intentionally ambiguous. Glazer chooses to launch a probing often intentionally provocative and disturbing) investigation into modern sexual relationships and desires. In the world of Under the Skin, sexual vulnerability in flip flopped. While women in modern thought are often portrayed in a hyper sexualized and vulnerable manner, the world the film presents is very different.
In it, it is men who should worry about walking alone, and it is the woman who is the sexual pursuant. The film highlights this switch is when the woman is swept up by a ‘herd’ of girls heading to a nightclub, where they plan to meet men who feel perfectly safe going to the club alone. It becomes so socially ingrained that the drunken women she meets fail to realize the magnitude of their behaviour, but the woman, because of her mission and need to be aggressive in that manner, does. With her alien viewpoint, the woman seems struck by this behaviour as odd and contradictory.
The woman’ is has become everything society tells her to be. She’s beautiful thanks to the makeup widely available, she’s confident, just like every magazine tells women to be, and she’s sexually independant, pursuing guys despite the opposite being status quo. Despite the constant barrage she experiences on her short ime on earth, the women around her do the opposite they’re told. They travel together, for fear of what might happen. It’s a contemporary film in its conclusion, because it highlights the lack of progress the modern era saw in terms of true identity development.
Genders are still often compared as two extremes, and if women are continually described as different from men, they are robbed of their identity. Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, above all, wants to remain anonymous. It’ meaning, often evasive, I found it very difficult to find a definite period the film belongs to, because it borrows rom other periods oftenly. The bulk of the story however; does revolve around sexual identity, advertising, and traditional gender roles. The film seeks to violently combat standards set in the modern period.
The audience sees an alien, initially incapable of human emotion, able to pick up on beauty standards in a short time frame, standards that women are barraged with throughout their lives. The film also succeeds in flipping the nature of sexual relationships between genders, as ironically Scarlett Johansson’s character becomes the hunter, in a world where quite the opposite is normal. The films rebellion gainst gender standards put it well within the realm of postmodern and contemporary thought.
The film uses a classical approach to human psychology, as the woman’s mission sees her presented in a world with no dispositions, thoughts, or knowledge. She needs to take everything in inorder to succeed in hunting hypersexualizing men. Despite her acquisitions of knowledge, she sees women consistently contradict what she’s seen. I think film concludes with the message that if genders are continually separated in a modern thought process, the inequality we all seek to overcome will never happen.