Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’

Chris Palazzolo revisits Under the Skin. Written, directed by Jonathan Glazerand, 2014.

under the skinOn a storm lashed Scottish beach a woman drowns trying to rescue her pet dog from the surf. Her husband, trying to save her, is dragged to shore by a young surfer but runs straight back in presumably to drown too in what appears to be a kind of pet dog suicide pact. The couple’s two year old child is left on the beach. It seems that the surfer will save him at least. Alas, as the surfer lies on the pebbled shore in exhaustion, a young woman approaches and bashes his head in with a rock. The child is doomed to die of exposure. The woman won’t rescue him; she’s only interested in guys she can lure back to her home, and she’s bashed the surfer’s brains in because he went to rescue the couple rather than stay and talk to her.

Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, is a hybrid of sci-fi exploitation. The story of a female alien who takes the form of a beautiful young woman in order to hunt on earth is not new. For decades sexy aliens have been seducing pathetic male simpletons with the lure of hot sex with a chick who has the body of a supermodel, in order to have them for lunch, or use them as immediately disposable studs for a new super race of alien overlords. Under the Skin’s contribution to this genre is an elliptical sang froid exemplified by the scene on the beach. Unlike its b-grade cousins, the narrative doesn’t take the side of humanity against the alien, but is in fact a device for a dispassionate, naturalist gaze on human (and alien) behaviour; a kind of study of habitat invasion, in which all the multiform beauty and cruelty of nature is shown without any cloudings of morality or ‘delicate feelings’ interfering with the representation. The parents abandon their child on a beach to rescue a dog; this is not an occasion for moralising about bad parenting, but just what happens in nature, in the same way a bird lets its own young starve to death while it feeds the greedy gullet of a cuckoo; one of the ways nature ‘selects’ a particular genetic line for extinction.

The natural milieu is British rave culture; the predatory tango of heterosexual coupling and decoupling in the context of Glaswegian nightclubs and backpacker hostels. The means by which the alien hunts is sexual lure; the body of the hot chick is a plumage. But the alien is a product of human imagination so this is where kinky artifice reigns; the lunar paraphilia of the narrative gaze which has not so much expunged human nature of all morality but concentrated the moralistic impulse into a castration fear towards the toddler egoism of female sexuality.

It’s difficult not to see Under the Skin as an allegory of STDs. The central motif is rubber. The alien’s skin is a sheaf of shiny black rubber like the sweet smelling rubber beloved of fetishists (contrast this to David Bowie’s alien in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, whose skin was a kind of milky goo, as if the organism had never separated from the lactating matrix). The alien lures its prey into a vast room full of what looks like sump oil, but is in actual fact crystal clear liquid rubber. There the prey is consumed, over a period of days, as it floats suspended in the clinging phlegm until it is nothing more than a flap of bodiless skin like a discarded condom floating in a drain.

– Chris Palazzolo


Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

You can find out more about Teasing Threads here:  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/07/10/introducing-chris-palazzolos-teasing-threads-sundry-film-and-literary-criticism/

The Under  the Skin website http://undertheskinmovie.com/