As far as most Jewish men are concerned, Scarlett Johansson is the perfect woman. Full-mouthed, curvy, petite and with a voice seductive enough to sell chocolate to calorie-counters, Johansson is also of the faith and fiercely protective of Israeli company SodaStream. Could it get any better? Interestingly, director Jonathan Glazer was one of the few Jewish men not to be interested in her — at least initially — for in casting the role of predatory female alien in Under the Skin he didn’t want a movie star. Or as he put it: “I wanted a barmaid from the Holloway Road.”
Glazer felt that an A-lister would compromise the anonymity of his woman who fell to earth, but quickly realised that without a name, his adaptation of Michael Faber’s novel would die at the box office, as Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth would have done without David Bowie.
I’m not convinced that even with Johansson, this film about an alien cruising the streets of Glasgow looking for men to turn into ready meals to send home will be a must-see for many. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Cinema experiences are seldom this raw and Glazer’s use of hidden cameras to capture candid reactions from real people is very interesting. The director also knows how to hook an audience and grabs you immediately with the creation of an eye in the darkness of space while a female voice — Johansson’s — repeats everyday words. It’s mesmerising “alien gets ready for earth” stuff and becomes even more so when we see the actress driving a white transit van and stopping to ask unsuspecting Scottish males for directions.
Those who agree to accompany her home meet a sticky end in a sea of black gloop. And as she only needs their innards, we get to watch their discarded skin float away. It’s horrible and there is a particularly awful drowning sequence involving a baby which is included to show the alien’s total lack of empathy.
Over time, the alien does start to feel something and that — together with the fact that Johansson wears little a lot — might appeal to male ticket-buyers.