Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

28 July 2014

Under the Skin

There are spoilers here. Although I am not sure either of us understands the movie any better than you will if you read this. In fact, it might only be of interest to those who have seen Under the Skin. If you haven't yet seen it, you must. It's this year's Upstream Color: fascinating, formally cool, visually stunning, deeply unsettling. This is unmissable.

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Carlos: Under the Skin!
Aaron: Right??
Carlos: So I must preface that I had no intention of seeing it this weekend. But I dropped by wallet in the parking lot of the Vons my friend and I were buying snacks at before Boyhood. So we had to go back and find it and by then we missed Boyhood. But I found my wallet and a redbox. So I was completely emotionally unprepared for Under the Skin.
Aaron: Ok. Good preface.  
Carlos: But I looooved it. Stylistically it reminded me a lot of Drive.
Aaron: I think I was imagining it would be more like Sexy Beast, but, well it was just so out there.
Carlos: I think, occasionally, to its detriment. But I think that's because the soundtrack wasn't as absorbing.
Aaron: Hmmmm. I loved the score.
Carlos: Haunting. To be sure. But those long shots of Black Widow looking at her rear view mirror started to wear on me by the end of it. But that that's about it as far as my complaints.
Aaron: Ooo not me. I have no complaints.
Carlos: I figured you wouldn't. I'm still unpacking it. Because I had a lot of preconceptions about what it was supposed to be and it was none of those things. Which I loved.
Aaron: I spent most of the film thinking what is going on??
Carlos: Yes! I was completely disoriented, but in the best possible way.
Aaron: I got from the very beginning – the opening sequence of spheres – that someone was learning to speak.
Carlos: Yes.
Aaron: And then I understood that the body (ScarJo, I mean) was not from round here. But once she starts seducing men?
Carlos: Was that first body her as well? It was a different girl, yes?
Aaron: Different girl. A failed version? Or perhaps someone who – like many sex workers – has met her end at the hands of a violent male.
Carlos: Maybe. I like that you referred to her as "the body" but I think "husk" is more appropriate.
Aaron: Husk is good.
Carlos: Especially considering the "body" count of the movie. Yes, once she starts seducing men. I loved the hunting sequences. Her point of view moving from man to man. Occasionally woman to woman.

Aaron: Here's a question I'm thinking about: what do the men she seduces see while they begin to wade into the pool? Surely they aren't seeing what we are seeing.
Carlos: Oh my god, I have no idea. Those sequences had me mesmerized.
Aaron: Yeah me too! And there is where the score is really really effective, too.
Carlos: I watched it with two straight guys. And I brought up the question. They had a pretty simple answerIf ScarJo (or a physical equivalent) is undressing in front of you, you will see little else. The other guy nodded, sipped his beer, and said "tunnel vision". And to a certain extent I think they're right.
Aaron: Really? And you wouldn't see that you had begun wading into a pool of some unidentifiable liquid?
Carlos: It's a larger metaphor for something else. Look at how people are hooking up over Craigslist, Grindr, etc. And then you get those horror stories of people getting chopped up instead of hooking up.
Aaron: Oh for heaven's sake! That isn't an answer. I don't think it is a metaphor for anything. But I try to resist metaphorization. Materially: they wade into a pool of liquid. And she does not. And they don't see that. If we don't metaphorize that...

 Carlos: I mean, it's more about how we treat sex now. That for many lonely people desperate for a connection, if something like that – that they've been deprived of – is offered to them, you can lose sight of yourself and your personal safety.
Aaron: Totally. Totally. But that isn't a metaphor. That is literally what happens. That is the plot. 
Carlos: Right. But the imagery is not what happens in real life.
Aaron: Haha! That's what I'm asking about. That was what I was thinking about during those sequences.
Carlos: Oh when I say real life, I'm talking about our real life. I think it's non-explained away with alien magic, honestly.
Aaron: Yes. I think you are right.
Carlos: Alien magic or hook up culture?
Aaron: Alien magic. Well, alien technology.
Carlos: Same thing.
Aaron: It is definitely about our hook up culture in a lot of ways. But also so much about loneliness, right? So much.
Carlos: Oh my god, yes. About connection.
Aaron: The man with Neurofibromatosis really illustrates this.
Carlos: Yeah. I actually read a really great interview with him a few months ago, saying how the filming of this movie really changed his life.
Aaron: And then she -- as it turns out -- also has a body that is different.
Carlos: That, like every other scene in this movie, was heartbreaking.
Aaron: She cannot physically connect with the man she wants to love. Oh my god, yes. And what is amazing is that by that time I understood what was happening, so I wasn't spending that sequence attempting to figure anything out.
Carlos: Yeah. Before she even looked with the lamp?
Aaron: Right. Yes.

Carlos: It's interesting, too, that whatever happens under the black pool, quite literally, turns the men into chunks of meat.
Aaron: I like your meat metaphor because it is sort of like a factory. The way a factory might process chicken or beef. They are eviscerated, yes?
Carlos: Well, I'm pretty sure it's worse than that. Getting all your innards sucked out after your body goes liquid soft seems worse than being sliced up.
Aaron: Isn't that what evisceration means? I need to look up my torture terminology. Clearly.
Carlos: I guess it is. I've been using it incorrectly. Eviscerate is a big catch all murder term.
Aaron: I loved that sequence with Paul Brannigan from The Angel's Share. When he touches the other body under the liquid. The point of view changes so much. And I didn't mind at all.
Carlos: Oh yes. He was very good and that whole image was the worst.
Aaron: He's so good!

Carlos: Can we talk about the motorcycle man/men?
Aaron: I was just gonna ask about him.
Carlos: This is the biggest question I have. Who is he? Is he another Husk? Is she responsible for feeding them? Because he seems to be angry with her whenever she gets out of line.
Aaron: I thought not but perhaps so. I think there's only one.
Carlos: But there were like 4-5 bike men?
Aaron: I don't mean that I think there's only one. She only has one. The other bike men in that scene I assume have their own husks for whom they're responsible.
Carlos: I kept calling him her "cleaner."
Aaron: Yes. That makes sense. He does that.
Carlos: That's what I figured. But shit was hitting the fan, and he needed help. I feel like I need to see it again. So much work was done in the tiniest of actions.
Aaron: He is part of the same machine she is, I think.
Carlos: I do too. I think he's a husk.
Aaron: Most definitely a husk then.
Carlos: But he just has a different role.
Aaron: But perhaps one who knows more than she. Yeah you are certainly right. Husk.
Carlos: Well, think about it. Remember that scene where she looks herself over in the mirror? I didn't realize it at the time, but she was looking for cracks in her façade.
Aaron: In act three? Oh yes!
Carlos: Later, after men stopped being brought in, Cleaner did that too.
Aaron: He did??
Carlos: Yep. Very briefly. So it stands to reason that if they do not consume these men, their masks slip away.
Aaron: Oh wow. Which is what happens at the end.
Carlos: Yeah. Oh man, that was hard to watch. So beautiful and tragic. I mean, the act was not beautiful, but the way it was composed was.

Aaron: But that's not... Wait. Their only purpose in consuming these bodies cannot be to sustain their own lives, surely.
Carlos: It didn't seem to be a pleasure for her.
Aaron: No, not at all, but I'm saying that they need those bodies, or their eviscera, for a purpose other than their own personal maintenance. They are required to do this. For some other purpose.
Carlos: Are they, though? It read to me as a food-as-fuel situation.
Aaron: Well yes, I mean somebody made them. Their maintenance might be linked to this but it isn't the only purpose.
Carlos: Did someone?
Aaron: A machine fashions her body and teaches her how to speak. She has just been born when we meet her.
Carlos: She has been born, but we didn't see anything beyond a black dot becoming an eye. To me, I was reading all of this as purely survival functions. There didn't seem to be any higher purpose to it. Which goes back to the men as well, and the question of what they see.
Aaron: Only survival, huh?
Carlos: Because for them, sex with this woman, or rather connection with this woman (any woman it seems, really) is necessary for survival.
Aaron: That makes it all so much more depressing, Carlos.
Carlos: And it goes back to that hook-up-culture bit, earlier. We hurl our bodies into each other because we long to find that correct fit, whether it exists or not, with little care for our greater well being. It's that tunnel vision. I thought it was a pretty depressing movie.
Aaron: I find it hard to be depressed when I am so excited about the film itself.
Carlos: I can be both.
Aaron: I was really energized and happy during the whole film because I found the form so fascinating.
Carlos: Maybe depressing is the wrong word. Bleak. It was bleak.
Aaron: I was moved but not depressed at all. It is a very sad film. Bleak yes.
Carlos: Yes. Let's go with that.
Aaron: But it is so exquisitely made that it left no residue of its own bleakness with me.
Carlos: Maybe you're just not on Scruff enough to really feel it.
Aaron: That seems possible. Touché. Well I also have made peace with my own loneliness to a large extent.

Carlos: Let's keep talking about this sustenance vs. higher purpose. Because aside from the birth, I'm wondering what other clues might have hinted at something larger for you?
Aaron: It is the machine itself that signals that. Something gives her a purpose. Information that she is supposed to do something. Something manufactures that house, the pool, the technology that eviscerates. Even the technology that transforms the eviscera into a substance usable for food or something else. What makes the husk itself?
Carlos: Because the way I saw it, she sort of moved in reverse in terms of her sexual evolution. When we're young we're taught that you must have a connection in order for sex to mean something, and as we age we learn that sometimes you just need to get your rocks off to make it to tomorrow. But the husk's evolution was in reverse. She used the hollow sex as a means to survive but discovered that without the connection that there is no meaning in what she is doing.
Aaron: I don't think she learned anything like that. Sex was a kind of utility initially; she has sex (or rather seduces men) because it is necessary. And then there is the possibility of connection with someone else, a sexual connection, and she opts for that. She didn't see that there might be something else, something redeemable in a man. And so what she learns is a kind of humanity. She sees them as something other than murderers, rapists, etc.

Carlos: But at that point, she has stayed with the man a couple days, right?
Aaron: No. First the man with Neurofibromatosis. Him first, and then the man who tries to help.
Carlos: And she lets him go.
Aaron: Right. For me that is her learning something human. Something about care or connection or, oh I don't know, generosity.
Carlos: So that begs the question, are they sort of a hive mind? Did she call the Cleaner? If the Cleaner knew about that guy, how could he not easily find her? Because as soon as he was let go, the Cleaner knew exactly where to go to take care of it.
Aaron: He couldn't find her when she started running. Before that, he is tailing her in some way. I think.
Carlos: But that's what I'm asking. How did he find that guy in such a specific place? And then was not able to find her?

Aaron: You mean that guy's home?
Carlos: Yes.
Aaron: He must've had his ID from his clothes.
Carlos: Ahhh. Okay. Makes sense.
Aaron: I don't think they have a hive mind.
Carlos: Unless it's based on proximity. Because there were a couple times where he just showed up. But she could have called or texted off screen.

Definitely this guy.
Aaron: So I still think -- and maybe it is because it makes it less depressing -- that there is something alien and larger that uses these men's eviscera for something other than the maintenance of the Cleaner and the husk.
Carlos: Some Eldritch horror, no doubt. Swimming with tentacles and eyes.
Aaron: Or something more like what we could call technology. A computer.
Carlos: I'll stick with Yog Sothoth, thank you.

Aaron: Hahahha. What is so fascinating to me is the way the film frames these men's lives as disposable.
Carlos: I loved that.
Aaron: They are a fungible quantity but even more than that a disposable fungible quantity. It is devastating to imagine. Because they really are that and not through any machine or biopolitical power (I mean, healthcare or employment or anything). They are disposable because they are alone and lonely and have no one in their lives who loves them. So this disposable quality is affectively produced.
Carlos: You said this film wasn't depressing... But that line was about the most depressing fucking thing you could have said.
Aaron: Yes. I see what you mean.