Under the Skin tells the story of a stunning woman who drives around Glasgow in a van, picking up unsuspecting men and leading them into an alien void where they meet their death. Scarlett Johansson plays the Female, a role that diverged from her usual family-friendly Hollywood releases like The Avengers and We Bought a Zoo. The film premiered at Telluride Film Festival in August 2013 and was met with mixed reactions, with the audience booing it at Venice Film Festival’s screening in September. Despite its box office flop, Under the Skin later gained critical acclaim, winning British Film of the Year by the London Film Critics Circle, ranking fourth in The Guardian’s list of best movies since 2000, and earning a spot on Sight Sound’s prestigious longlist of all-time best movies.
Director Jonathan Glazer skillfully utilizes Scarlett Johansson’s image as a sex symbol of the 2000s in his film to subvert expectations. The Female character is silent and unsettling when she undresses to lure unsuspecting men to their deaths. Although she appears seductive, there is nothing sexual about her naked body. Johansson’s portrayal of the character is quiet but not empty, conveying a sense of being soulless in less capable hands. However, her quest for prey proves unsustainable, culminating in a distressing moment where a couple drowns in the sea while trying to save their dog, leaving their abandoned baby wailing on the empty beach. The Female walks past the child unresponsive, collecting the body of a failed rescuer. This moment serves as a turning point for her, leading her to abandon Glasgow for the Scottish countryside and sparing her next victim. Despite dabbling in human life, she finds no pleasure in it. She retches when attempting to eat chocolate cake and stops an attempted sexual encounter with a man who offers her shelter and companionship. Her otherness fails to protect her from the dangers of humanity. As the movie ends, her human skin is ripped off by a man who wishes her harm, highlighting the inevitability of her fate. Mica Levi’s tense score adds to the overwhelming emotional experience of the film, which ultimately conveys that the Female cannot escape the fundamental experiences of human life. Johansson’s portrayal of the character is heartbreakingly poignant, capturing all the emotions that are new to the Female.