Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Under the Skin
Occasionally, I participate in The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot Series. Previous entries can be found here.
When I first saw the sequences of Scarlett Johansson’s mysterious alien character easily seducing a string of men into her car, I was annoyed. And not the kind of annoyed that you can easily brush off. No, it was the kind of annoyed that sits in your gut and makes you slink as far into your movie theater seat as you possibly can . One by one I saw these men hop right into her car, and every time it happened I was pissed off at how stupid they all were. As I became acquainted with the floor of the theater, all I could think was “Do they not teach stranger danger in English schools? Are they all daft? What the fuck was wrong with these men?”
And then right before my head hit the sticky tiles as I scared the elderly couple behind me with my shrinking into myself act, I suddenly got it. These men were idiots because they never learned. They never learned the warning signs of when someone was going to hurt them. They never learned that they needed to protect themselves at all times. They never learned about constant vigilance and the power of groups and to always have six hundred emergency contacts and a vat of pepper spray on hand to protect themselves from potential harm.
In short: they never lived under the watchful eye of rape culture.
And as soon as that realization popped into my brain, Under the Skin became fascinating to me. Because it’s a movie about what happens when the predators are turned into prey. Whether it’s the men who take advantage of myriads of young women daily, or Scarlett Johansson’s alien figure who takes advantage of those same men. Under the Skin is a film about the weaknesses of those who are never taught to fear. It is on that level that Under the Skin became a movie that would stay with me in the months after I had first seen it.
Yes, Under the Skin is also a film about humanity and learning to love humanity and the weaknesses of being human. I get how it’s interesting on that level, I get why people respond to it that way. But for me personally? As a young women in a political culture that makes it scary to be a young women? What stood out to me in Under the Skin was the way in which it subtly tore apart how damaging rape culture is for men. If men grew up with the same overbearing messages that women grow up with, there is no way they would be hopping into Scarlett Johannson’s car. Or telling her they live alone and that nobody is expecting to hear from them for days. Or entering her house and tearing off their clothes with all the smugness of the cat that ate six hundred canaries.
And so when picking a Best Shot for this episode of the series, the sequence I wanted to look at again was obvious. It’s from early on in the film and is the first full depiction we get of Scarlett Johansson seducing a man into her snatches. I watched it multiple times when trying to pick a final image, and there were so many good shots to chose from. There’s the proud smirk of a man who easily believes that he can seduce a lady as pretty as Scarlett Johansson off the streets with nothing but a few pick-up lines. There’s the same man staunchly walking into the darkness of Scarlett Johansson’s abode, once again suspecting nothing strange. There’s Scarlett Johansson’s blank, come hither look as she easily tears off her clothes (it never works out that sexily for me, but then again, I’m not Scarlett Johansson). All of these shots are gorgeous and I could easily talk about them for possibly decades. However, they don’t get the real themes of what I’m picking at here as simply as the shot above, the shot I ultimately picked from this movie.
Scarlett Johansson is walking away, easily, blankly, not giving a second thought to the destruction that is happening right behind her. Meanwhile, nameless male is still following after her with his macho swagger barely noticing that he is being entrapped and set up for his ultimate death. He’s too enraptured with being the predator that he doesn’t even notice that the switch has been flipped on him and he’s actually the prey. The shot is like watching a tiger get ensnared by a gazelle without ever noticing what’s happening to him, except in a gorgeous, sparse human style. This shot accurately sums up the thematic aspects of Under the Skin that I loved in one moment, and it’s why it was my Best Shot this time around.