Jonathan Glazer on his eerie, haunting alien tale 'Under the Skin'
Under the Skin is very loosely based on the novel by Michel Farber. The film's "feeding" scenes, in particular, are far more abstract than as written in the book. After the alien seduces a victim, he's lured into what looks like a run-down house. The setting changes into a dark room that seems to represent an otherworldly void, with composer Mica Levi's spine-tingling score — one of the film's most potent takeaways — exponentially enhancing the dread.
"The book and the film are really unrelated. They're very, very different," Glazer says. "The idea of this film was to make something alien to tell a story about an alien. At the end of the film, I wanted her to remain as inscrutable at the end as she was at the beginning. Part of that is not to feel like you are looking at the tropes of science fiction when you go into these alien realm scenes — alien technology and engineering, and all of the stuff that you see in sci-fi films. Here, it just didn't feel relevant to the way we were telling the story."
So instead of a spaceship, the alien's lair is a black screen which is actually part of the alien itself. "The alien is the absence of light, the absence of form. It's a force, nothing more," Glazer says.
But as the alien spends more time among humans — ducking through a night club, witnessing a tragedy on a beach, meeting a man with a deformed face, meeting another man who's kind to her when she needs help — she begins to mistakenly believe that her fleshy, temporary form is her own.
"She's deluded into thinking this identity is real," Glazer says. "It's like an 'it' becoming 'she.' It sees what's reflected and it believes 'That must be what I am now,' and she goes and indulges that."
Her confusion inspires her to abandon her mission and ditch the mysterious, motorcycle-riding figure who tracks her movements and, if needed, cleans up her messes. She leaves her kidnapper van by the side of the road and trudges into the Scottish countryside.
"Her main targets are men — so [initially] it's important to be in a city and be around human beings. And then she flies away from that. It's an escape, really," Glazer says. "She ends up in the wilderness and we end up there with her. It's important to tell the story alongside her, so we experience things with her. We're in step with her."
Eventually, the alien comes to understand the most human trait of all — vulnerability — in a chilling, visceral climax that evokes the body horror of early Cronenberg, a visual reference that dovetails well with the film's clinical, Kubrickian opening scenes. That said, Glazer had neither filmmaker in mind while he was working.
"You're trying to make an alien film that should stand apart from everything else," he says. "It should stand alone. So for that reason, the last thing you want to do is reference other films or make it feel like it's familiar. It's familiar right at the beginning [of the film], before we see the shot of [Johansson's eye]. Once we realize it's an eye, then it becomes intentionally unfamiliar." *
UNDER THE SKIN opens Fri/11 in Bay Area theaters.