Sexy-alien movie “Under the Skin” appears headed to cult status in re-release.
A proudly pretentious art film with Scarlett Johansson as the most seductive extraterrestrial who ever fell to Earth, “Under the Skin” bids to enter the late Stanley Kubrick’s forbidding body of work. It may even consummate the relationship, but in the spirit of “2001” itself, that’s open to interpretation.
After a theatrical run brief enough to guarantee its status as a cult movie, “Under the Skin” will be available for rent on demand (and for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray) starting Tuesday. At such time, deep thinkers can press the pause button to pore over the film’s details (including Johansson’s privates) and ponder the very nature of existence — or at least the question of whether British director Jonathan Glazer is Kubrick reborn.
Glazer, who made cerebral music videos for the likes of Radiohead before directing “Sexy Beast” and “Birth,” opens his third feature in the far reaches of outer space and human intellect alike. Invoking “2001” from the get-go, he traces the progress of Johansson’s star-child from a single white pixel at center screen into a HAL-9000-type glowing eye and beyond. Somewhere near the five-minute mark (roughly the lifespan of a rock video), a leading lady rises from the digital ooze.
As fully embodied by Johannson, the film’s resident alien starts out looking like a distaff punker in skimpy jean skirt and fishnet stockings, the attire entirely unsuitable for her mission to lure men to their doom. Next stop — the megamall! Now draped in fur, she flirts with a series of thickly accented Glasgow guys who proceed to follow her “home” into a lethal abstract art installation of sorts.
Male film critics ogling Johansson and touting “Under the Skin” as a capital-M masterpiece may have fallen into a heady trap as well. In Film Comment, Nicolas Rapold lauds the star’s “fresh, obliging manner” and, more high-mindedly, hails the movie as a “horror flick of disassociation.” Blogging reviewer Glenn Kenny hesitates to go all the way, announcing that, while the film is “possibly” great and ScarJo “very attractive,” he’d never let her kind ensnare him without first checking himself in the mirror.
After two “Skin” screenings, I’m only halfway to infatuation. At first sight, from the front row of a packed theater in Toronto last fall, the film left me cold. I figured Glazer had tried and failed to put me in the sort of trance that Kubrick’s movies induce right away.
The second time, though, I could recognize the snail-paced tale that Glazer is spinning in between twirls of his high-def hypnosis wheel. Far as I can tell, “Under the Skin” is about an alien who, impersonating a woman, eventually discovers what it means to be one. It might also be about an ordinary filmmaker who approaches the infinite by emulating a genius, but I’m not sure about that. It’s only 2014, and some of us are still hung up on “2001.”
Also notable on VOD
Glazer’s “Birth” and “Sexy Beast” — starring Nicole Kidman and Ben Kingsley, respectively — are streamable in HD via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video, although “Birth” is available only for purchase.
Proving the director’s Kubrick obsession goes back even further than his first two features, Glazer’s 1995 videos for Massive Attack’s “Karmacoma” and Blur’s “The Universal” are on iTunes. The former clip nods directly to “The Shining” and the latter to “A Clockwork Orange” — both of which are on Amazon. In fact, that site has all of Kubrick’s 13 features, from “Fear and Desire” to “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Send questions or comments to Rob Nelson at VODcolumn@gmail.com.