Postscript: Three volumes, two moons, and ‘1Q84’ by Haruki Murakami

When it comes to the running joke among bibliophiles as to which fantasy realm they’d want to live in to, I’m not going to pick among Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Lord of the Rings series. In fact, I’d choose the least outlandish and most normal, whose wall between reality is almost penetrable, but given the unusual circumstances, is still considered as a fantasy world. Set in one of my dream cities to-visit in the year 1984, when mystery is at its peak once two moons appear, it would be Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s curiously amalgamated mega-novel, 1Q84.

I admit; being drawn to the world of 1Q84 was more of a sentimental indulgence than the fascination on its fictional elements. The latter is after all, a literary device that inadvertently lured the protagonists back together after twenty-years of separation. Amidst the dark themes of cult and crime, Murakami created a bizarre love story, made entangled with the numerous façades of intrigue. It would appear that the mortality and romantic future of the leads are pitted against a superior force (ironically called as the Little People) but in the end, is triumphed by the most powerful of all…

(Warning! Spoilers are coming if you haven’t read the book.)

Love and hope have always connected Aomame and Tengo since their last meeting as ten-year olds. There is something romantic about preserving the existence of a moment with a special person that forever changes you. Something so reassuring when someone holds your hand and a certain feeling loops between you and knots the both of you as one – a naïvely metaphysical recognition that the young Aomame and Tengo shared and carried to the present as young adults. It was not until their involvement with the fanatical antagonist (the religious cult Sakigake) and unwitting entry to 1Q84 (from the real 1984) that ultimately joined them. But the much-awaited reunion takes time as Murakami meticulously maps eerie patterns of supernatural inspirations that pique the novel’s ordinary backdrop, where he psychoanalyzes the characters through self-realization and external provocation. Once the reader follows the current of 1Q84’s windingly chronicle through the point-of-view characters, he/she will be entranced by the eloquence and persuasiveness of Murakami’s make-believe universe where two parallel dimensions exist. Whose oddness is not disorienting but adaptable, it becomes an unlikely medium for self-discovery and the romantic resolution of finding the love of one’s life.

Pre-1Q84, Aomame and Tengo are inconspicuous in the mundane milieu of a thriving Tokyo during the 1980s. But Murakami infuses fantasy that highlights their special qualities in a domain made miscible with strange circumstances. A sports instructor, Aomame moonlights as a murderess-with-a-cause who sends abusive men ‘to the other side’; while Tengo, who was a child prodigy, is settled as a mathematics cram teacher and the ghostwriter of 1Q84’s enigmatic Pandora’s box – the novelette Air Chrysalis. It’s unclear when did their immersion to the alternate world begin (Aomame has long been stupefied by the double lunar presence even before Tengo could describe their appearance in his working novel). In its perplexing glory, the two moons has surreptitiously drawn them together – the only rewarding light from the dark tunnel of ‘1Q84’, named by Aomame to the new reality after descending from the highway’s emergency exit (Chapter 1: Aomame “Don’t let appearances fool you). Before reaching the end, 1Q84 is divided into in three volumes that cover the duration (April-June, July-September, October-December) of Aomame and Tengo’s existence in 1Q84. Murakami’s ambitiousness is transcribed through the personal mythology of its characters and the fictitious history that ripples through them. Once the narrative vertex is achieved, 1Q84 becomes more than a sensational setting of mysterious events. The picture of two people attracted to the abnormal sight of two satellites is an earnest allegory of their similarity. Both found each other’s dearest company in the confounding corners of 1Q84. The difference is that Aomame and Tengo successfully escape the ‘other’ reality while the silver moon is the only inhabitant of the night sky with no smaller and greenish counterpart floating queerly on the side.

Back and front cover as the faces of Tengo and Aomame.

Not to give further away, 1Q84 is an absorbing literary adventure whose dalliance among the detective, fantasy and mystery genres delivers a sum unexpectedly more endearing than the parts of the whole. Deep in its core is a surreal romance that transcends through time and dimension. The rhetoric pronunciations could be overwhelming but Murakami stays his novel grounded with the genuine feelings of love, acceptance, sadness and hope. As the reader becomes more privy to the mind, heart and soul of Aomame and Tengo, a deep attachment grows that makes them more alive and identifiable as real people who are caught between unnatural situations. But their love story is (most personally) affecting and satisfying (two lonely individuals who had yearned to meet each other for so long — that’s the only goodness 1Q84 had brought in their lives).

(People would say ‘be careful of what you wish for’ but I would want to stay in a world as unpredictably dangerous and life-changing as 1Q84, where I can also develop a sense of purposefulness and grasp a better understanding of my individuality. Better yet, to find the person who is also looking for me. If he exists then I consider myself lucky. But if not, at least 1Q84 imparted that something worth believing is much better than losing the will to entrust one’s faith to either the tangible or the imaginable.)

Advertisements

Film Diary: The Graduate (Tribute to Mike Nichols, Part 1)

I could only say little about the renowned director Mike Nichols who had long been making inimitable films decades before my ordinary existence. His understanding of the human ethos is directed through the intimate exploration of the many faces of tragedy, be it the perfectly recognizable post-college malaise in THE GRADUATE and the treacherous trials of love in CLOSER. These two flicks are quite seductive on their own; the former famously identified by its iconic quote and the latter through its quartet of attractive leads. Nichols is also notable for selecting the felicitous accompanying folk music that enriches the overall cinematic experience. Without further ado, here are my takes on two of Nichols’ mainstream films.

@@@@@

THE GRADUATE (1967)

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-13h04m44s155

Hello darkness, my old friend…

In describing coming-of-age films, ‘timeless’ comes into mind when the movie is still ripe of its emotional resonance, years since its release. The genre’s potent ability to evoke such feeling and memory makes the metaphysical bond with the film more personal. It’s not just by recognizing the emotive gravity of that moment, but also finding one’s self in that scene at one point in a lifetime.

If there’s a film that accurately captured a moment in my life, it would be Nichols’ Oscar-winning film (as Best Director), THE GRADUATE, starring a gangly and fidgety Dustin Hoffman who finds himself lost post-graduation. Simply put, this coming-of-age film perfectly understands and embodies the empty void the ex-student feels after finishing one’s education. It’s the only movie that articulated excellently the existential crisis I felt after graduation. What do I do with my life after finishing school? How do I begin the rest of my life after completing the only thing that I’ve been doing since kindergarten? THE GRADUATE doesn’t grill its lead character about philosophical and radical rhetoric fitting for his scholarly standing. The young, promising intellectual introduced as Benjamin Braddock was weathered to become uncertain and unguarded whose compulsiveness to evade his career indecision took him off the road. The ending may not be the most optimistic but it is realistic. Awkwardly funny yet affecting of its youth’s cynicism and idealism, THE GRADUATE is consistent in evoking the authentic malaise that people who were once in Benjamin’s shoes had felt, including me.

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-13h33m41s114

First meeting.

Benjamin’s infamous affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) becomes his main diversion during his post-collegiate and pre-occupation existential limbo. What follows was a whirlwind of events that brought out Benjamin’s assertiveness from his timidity. The essence of coming-of-age films is rooted on the self-discovery and personal growth that bloom from life-changing decisions of its precocious and/or impetuous young characters. Benjamin wouldn’t recognize the man he had grown at the conclusion. However, his neutral impression in the last scene finds him on the same page in the beginning, haunted by uncertainty.

THE GRADUATE is a poignant splice of life easy to identify with. The feeling of ambiguity, anxiety and apprehension altogether simmer into the vulnerability of not knowing what to do in the future. Amidst the troubles on the heels of his recklessness, Benjamin discovers passion in pursuing what he wants and fights for it in the end. While the film is ambiguous on the regret over his climatic choice, the ending establishes the necessary maturity of his character existing in the permanence of uncertainty. THE GRADUATE is sympathetic on his predicament but it also emphasizes the inevitability of growing up (making more informed choices as the first step). The fear of what the future could bring can’t be overturned and Benjamin realizes it in the end. All he could do is be committed to his life-changing decision.

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-13h43m32s131

Benjamin (Hoffman) catching a break.

Remarkably blending with Benjamin’s personal journey in THE GRADUATE is Nichols’ fine choice of folk music from Simon & Garfunkel, whose quintessential melodies foster the film’s soul. Comforting yet brooding of the lead’s problematic situation, “The Sound of Silence” plays as Benjamin arrives from the airport; his uneasiness already palpable and the same song lulls during his nightly rendezvous with Mrs. Robinson. “Mrs. Robinson” is an ode to the movie’s ageless and most famous pop cultural reference. “Scarborough Fair” bookmarks Benjamin’s change in priorities as dictated by his heart.

Timeless and endearing, THE GRADUATE is one of those films that nurtures the being. While it led me to look back to my unemployed days/post-graduation days worried from purposelessness and failure, it also inspired me to look ahead. It’s a scary, uncertain tomorrow but the only direction for the graduate is forward. Speaking for every graduate, I‘m entitled to make mistakes, as long as I learn from it and use them to become better version of myself.

No more turning back, okay?

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-15h00m50s192

P.S.

Now I know why Summer from 500 Days of Summer cried. I didn’t cry anyway, but I felt what she felt. And so should you.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

UP NEXT: Why “Closer” makes me glad I’m single.

Film Diary: Interstellar, Gone Girl (Part 2)

GONE GIRL No other sentence in Gillian Flynn’s novel is as foreboding and encompassing as “There’s a difference between loving someone and loving the idea of her.” It highlights a distinction between perception and reality, and what can be perceived is not always the truth. Sometimes, it takes knowing someone to his/her marrow to ascertain the real person in front of you. He/she could be playing other people or playing against you – a sneaky role-playing game Flynn creates in an ugly and unwinnable duel of marriage. Set in the reverberating milieu of economic recession and made bitterer by the poisonous wordsmithery of its engrossingly hateful characters, GONE GIRL breathes the bruising nastiness of relationships and deliberate manipulation of the charismatic that can either lead to self-preservation and self-destruction. Flynn weds the ideas of irreconcilable personalities and psychological gimmickry in her two beguiling characters that fascinatingly embodied the fact and fiction of their contrived dilemma. The literary and cinematic medium worked hand-in-hand in enlivening Flynn’s twisty matrimonial tableau, which are reminiscent of the little, inside jokes soulfully binding Nick and Amy. Amidst the prevailing cynic heartbeat and loathing personas, GONE GIRL is a compulsively consumable work of fiction whose ferocious spirit is raw and recognizable in real life – all the more irresistible and mesmerizing to its audience, readers and film-goers alike.

@@@@@

Nick (Affleck) giving a speech before the vigil for his missing wife.

I spent months dodging spoilers before finally seeing the DVD and though I have an idea of the twist halfway, I am still astounded of Fincher’s latest auteur. On its own cinematic existence, GONE GIRL engrosses with its menacing atmosphere shrouding the disintegration of marriage as provoked by its brilliantly acted, convoluted characters while being shaped splendidly as a savory mystery-thriller in its pre- and post-production components. There are just so many aspects to rave about, not to mention the themes (which I’ll tie to the book discussion later on). Between the animosity of its married duo and their willful deception to the media frenzy that they ignited, GONE GIRL is fundamentally, a story about bad people whose his and her versions of the true story are unreliable but irresistible – like any domestic drama hoi polloi feast but made more sophisticated to the senses.

Pike as Amy Elliott-Dunne

Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) is the latest, memorable onscreen couple whose relationship becomes the subject of Fincher’s stylish scrutiny. Affleck’s turbulent past romance enabled him to be strangely comfortable in his character’s indecisiveness, insensitivity and obliviousness who is constantly pelleted due to his tactless behavior in his wife’s disappearance. Carrie Coon as Margo, Nick’s twin sister, is affecting and tactful in the allegations against her brother. But ultimately, GONE GIRL is owned by Pike whose portrayal of Nick’s calculating, duplicitous and psychopathic better half is the vicious heart of the film. Pre-Fincher, Pike is a perennial supporting player whose radiance in her poised, learned but tamed roles don’t go unnoticed. But GONE GIRL finally let her loose; a revelatory showcase of her jarring capacity as an actress that could squirm her Bond Girl guise. Pike becomes the epitome of an Ice Queen; the coldness condensing in her conniving looks and her undeniable beauty unwarranted of the gritty and ghastly allure she exudes in the movie’s shocking moments. She is one of the indispensable elements that make GONE GIRL darkly enthralling. The rest is expertly delivered by Fincher’s team by their profound and visceral grasp of the source material.

“This man may kill me.”

Creating the mood for a mystery film is a meticulous ploy. But the fiduciary connection with Fincher is robust that GONE GIRL is no less gorgeous on design and reminiscent of the perturbed photography of Zodiac with heightened trepidation through unconventional decibels. The serenity of the environment captured in an ominous glow is disquieting as the supple camerawork immerses terror at Nick digesting the malevolent surprises Amy had in store for him on their fifth wedding anniversary. Before plunging to the alternate accounts of the Dunnes on page, GONE GIRL’s editing faithfully doesn’t spoil the book’s narrative structure and provokes the revealing twists and turns that make the film vividly entertaining. Enlisting Trent Raznor and Atticus Ross for the film’s original score proves to be part of Fincher’s radical film-making as their nonconforming music is vital to the movie’s DNA. The sonic output is a reflection of the apprehensive atmosphere – the placid suburb and the Dunne’s genuine romantic foundation heard in the soothing, minimalist symphonies; only to be infringed by distressing electronic abnormalities as the suspicion grows stronger and the mystery becomes more precarious. To name a few, Amy’s unyielding determination races in “Technically Missingwhile the eerily relaxing “Sugar Stormrelishes on the Dunne’s courting period. A horrifying accompaniment to an equally horrific scene, “Consummation” warns of the horror of Amy’s devious plan to Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) and “Like Home” is a futuristic, hazy, relaxing tune to Nick and Amy’s telling resolution where the resounding anxiety is there to stay in their inescapable marriage.

Don’t they look harmless?

Kicking off as a mystery, GONE GIRL settles as a psychological thriller through the mind games it poses among its characters and audience. Punishment, pride and power over each other have kept Nick and Amy together even if they are apart. The film also throws a shade on journalistic sensationalism that the Dunnes’ utilize for their benefit. Who couldn’t resist a story of a beautiful, intelligent, known woman who went missing on her wedding anniversary with hints of foul play and was tragically, seemingly pregnant? Or a repentant husband talking to his wife through millions of viewers who has then learned that the media is as malleable as the façade he hides from the incriminating evidences against him? The frenzied coverage is as unreliable as Nick and Amy that the truth is tangled with deceit. GONE GIRL is also a daring and provoking machination of gender issues and while Nick’s emasculation and Amy’s misogynist’s motives raise controversy, the film (which I repeat and firmly believe) is centered on two bad people that happened to not reach their intended objective (the dissolution of their marriage) despite their pure intention. Nick and Amy bring out the best and worst in each other; like any other married couple. It’s just so happens that they’re bad people and maybe that’s the reason why they deserve each other.

RATING: 4.0/5.0

Capsule Review: The Babadook, Mockingjay: Part 1

Both a picture of terror born out of personal grief and political rebellion, The Babadook and Mockingjay: Part 1 (respectively) are female-focused and genre-based films that are thematically powerful in challenging the vulnerabilities of the leads bounded by their overbearing environment. The outcome doesn’t dissolve into a serene ending as the struggle against the internal and external demons remain existent. But as these female protagonists show, the change in attitude towards these forces flicks the switch to resilience. Not to undermine the frightening black creature and the foreboding white roses, The Babadook and Mockingjay: Part 1 open the floor to a thought-provoking discussion on the seeds of general fear and wrath; and the fruits are ripened fiction that more than tickles one’s imagination.

@@@@@

THE BABADOOK

I personally tend to avoid this genre (simply because it’s not my favorite film type) but Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent breaks the spell of bloody and mindless horror through the humble abode of Amelia, her son Samuel, and the nightmarish book character haunting them. THE BABADOOK abandons the superficial gimmicks to instill fear; only to derive terror from the ambiguous perception of its lead characters that will make viewers clutch to their subconscious to decipher the truth behind the mysterious domesticity of man and monster. The hatted eponymous creature is simply distressing in ominous black (with white details making it lifelike) but the real horror originates from Amelia (Essie Davis) whose vulnerability as a grieving, depressed and detached mother makes her the more terrifying character and the perfect medium for the babadook’s unwelcome nuisances. Similar to the disturbing content of Samuel’s book, THE BABADOOK is to be read between the lines. The underlying horror (in the form of Amelia) is no less authentic because the taboo of an unloving mother is real, making the film a thought-provoking allegory on the horrors of motherhood. In a movie that questions its characters’ state of mind, THE BABADOOK successfully infuses the influence of grief and depression, thus effectively invading the psychological tone of the genre. The ending is consistent on its cautionary tale: the fictional monster is a metaphor of Amelia’s traumas that devour her sanity due to her refusal of moving on from the tragedy of seven years passed. The babadook locked yet placated in the basement is Amelia’s unresolved thoughts stowed in her subconscious which she doesn’t have to revisit unless necessary. Such thematic elements make THE BABADOOK a more clever, sympathetic and genuine horror film that best captures the true horrors of one’s wounded psychology.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

MOCKINGJAY: PART 1

The third installment of the highly successful The Hunger Games Series, the MOCKINGJAY: PART 1 broadens Panem’s cinematic world in a more politically inclined landscape that sees Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) stepping up her role as an icon of revolution post-Quarter Quell. The overall result is an unhurried yet confident establishment of events that implants the catalysts for the franchise’s explosive conclusion. The addition of veteran actors Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman strengthens the more complex and mature nature of the war between the districts and the Capitol that overshadows the teenage angst which initially sparked the rebellion. But the inner political dispute is also present as Katniss bargains with the key players of District 13 who merely sees her as a public image for their civil cause. Lawrence once again resonates in her vivid portrayal whose character growth is rooted in Katniss’ recognition of her role in the revolution and acceptance of the black wings of the mockingjay in her own volition. MOCKINGJAY: PART 1 is less visually stirring in the action department but it is the essential trough that tackles the consequences of unrest in fictional dystopia. While the stoic infrastructure and harrowing rubbles corroborate the gloomy environment onscreen, additional merit goes to the film’s official soundtrack that morphs the eloquence of civil and political disorder with futuristic soundscapes courtesy of album curator Lorde, particularly the rebellious introspection of Yellow Flicker Beat. Overall, The Hunger Games Series is a rare young adult adaptation that proved to be a standalone material from the book and while MOCKINGJAY: PART 1 will find readers more tolerant in terms of the narrative, it’s a remarkable testament on how the film has grown — not by its commercial returns but on how it embraces serious subject matters that are treated as equally important as the inner conflicts of its prized heroine.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Film Diary: The Spectacular Now

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I decided to watch the 2013 Sundance hit The Spectacular Now starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley; and to my amazement, it’s more than just the romance between two divergent (see what I did there) teenagers that made me love it. It’s an endearing coming-of-age film that deserves much more credit on its layered storytelling about the urgency of youth. It shines on its deep portrayal of teenagers; and its natural beauty unfolding onscreen is truly spectacular to behold.

@@@@@

 

An ordinary love story made extraordinary by its narrative maturity and genuine acting, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is one of the best (and if I may add) and special coming-of-age dramas I’ve seen. At face value, it doesn’t lack the charm in the likes of Teller, Woodley and Brie Larson who relive teenage glory in the formative years of high school. Relatability is the core of this genre and while the film is inviting of personal memories and/or the sheer similarities among Sutter, Aimee and Cassidy, it’s the ingenious treatment of the characters that captivates me the most. The level of discernment among the leads makes THE SPECTACULAR NOW more than just a cheeky escapade for adolescent validation. It’s both conscious and selfless on its spontaneous dalliance that unwarrantedly leads to personal growth. No other teen film has gracefully addressed the concept of inescapable future and carpe diem. Succinctly, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is an empowered and affecting portrait of teenage sensibility that feels more real than it should be because of how lifelike and truthful it could be.

vlcsnap-2015-02-13-22h14m20s157First meeting.

(Warning: spoilers ahead)

Sutter (Teller) and Aimee (Woodley) are like comets that rarely pass the earth, albeit in the film’s universe, crossed each other’s path (or lawn) by chance even though they go to the same high school. They bear the classic DNAs of teenage typecasts: Sutter as the happy-go-lucky and life-of-the-party alcoholic while Aimee is the smart and pretty wallflower. THE SPECTACULAR NOW impresses on how it doesn’t pass judgment on its characters. Instead, it sinks into their soulfulness that soon calibrates the story. With the uncertainty of the future as its endgame, the film lingers on how Sutter and Aimee become each other’s biggest influence since their coincidental encounter. Their relationship starts platonic: Aimee unabashedly lets Sutter inside her sheltered life of science fiction and manga while he guilefully takes her to parties and introduces her first sip of alcohol. Pensive as she is, Aimee could be aware that Sutter still keeps his eyes on his ex-girlfriend, Cassidy (Larson). Nevertheless, it’s the conviction she found through him that Aimee decides for her future away from home. Her love doesn’t evolve out of desperation (since Sutter is the first guy who took interest at her) but it was organic as she perceives the goodness in him that he couldn’t see.

Sutter’s influence on her eventfully materializes, but like his tolerance to alcohol, Sutter has yet to swallow his sorrows until Aimee’s accident served as his wakeup call. It was not until Aimee’s urging (for his peace of mind) that Sutter finally visits his estranged father who fueled his intoxicated anger and misery. Sutter’s reliance on his drinking to cope with his faulty opinions on his mother and misaligned persistence on Cassidy becomes less of a defense mechanism as Aimee keeps him company ardently. The ‘incident’ scarred Sutter, realizing that his inebriated alter-ego is no good for Aimee and his desire to change himself for the better is ignited to be more deserving of her love.

Sutter (Miles Teller) and Aimee (Shailene Woodley)

Teller and Woodley are equally the source of THE SPECTACULAR NOW’s genuine charisma as their emotional depth radiate onscreen, be it Sutter’s pent-up frustrations or Aimee’s unrequited warmth that are nothing short of natural and spirited acting. But beyond the youthful façade evoking sentimentality is its emotive ripeness that stands out in the genre. THE SPECTACULAR NOW is successful on its precocious and unpretentious treatment of characters whose insecurities are bridged to something bigger than themselves. Sutter and Aimee are perceived not as capricious teenagers but are empowered as impassioned individuals anticipating the future (in their case: life after graduation). The film cultivates a mature environment with a profound grasp on reality, shaping sage characters through the process. The screenplay is eloquent on the instrumentality of Sutter and Aimee’s influence on each other towards their personal growth. Seeing their character development was both bittersweet and redeeming after all the hurt they’d gone through, especially Sutter who saved himself from drowning on his family woes and lack of ambition. Apart from the story’s resonance, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is simply glowing of palpable human intensity that empathy is the least to define how potent this film is. One way or another, it’s a precise retelling of someone’s history (or even a part of our own) and the film’s translucent genuineness makes viewers want to care more.

Adapted from Tim Thorp’s novel, THE SPECTACULAR NOW deftly balances the humor and heart of the young – restless on the present and sober towards the future. It is sweetened by an endearing cast and seasoned by the dramatic gravitas of realistic proportions. This coming-of-age film witnesses the growth of its characters; not coerced but raw and unhurried. As Sutter and Aimee’s romantic and personal journey shows, change should come inherent and it begins now.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Capsule Review: The Maze Runner

THE MAZE RUNNER

In a populated, alternate dystopian world where teenage boys are unknowingly trapped in the maze, THE MAZE RUNNER escapes the clichéd territory by banking on its more intuitive characters against the suspicious society they strive in. It lays ground of a ‘Lord of the Flies’-like setting that raises the oblivion to pseudo-‘The Hunger Games’ level, but still knows its destination. While the revelatory ending further leads to a labyrinth of ‘lies’, THE MAZE RUNNER is an intriguing and heightening run that has yet to release viewers from its enigmatic maze. Non-book readers would still be reeling on the puzzling turn of events but the next leg of answers is something to look forward to in its next installment.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Beneath ‘Under The Skin’: Fascination, Fear, and Fur

My highest rated film of the year (so far). Let’s talk about…

Beneath ‘Under The Skin’: Fascination, Fear, and Fur

“Strangely fascinating and eerily beautiful, UNDER THE SKIN sees Scarlett Johansson in her most bizarre femme fatale role onscreen. Director Jonathan Glazer’s exotic mix of science fiction and art house is a one-of-a-kind experience that leaves you speechless out of terror and trance, with a disturbing ‘prey’ music that preludes one of the most shocking sequences in the genre.” 

I posted the above capsule review on my Letterboxd and Rotten Tomatoes accounts, with the assumption that I’ve already realized the fullness of this brilliant film from director Jonathan Glazer (Birth and Sexy Beast). But days later, more reasons emerged in further undressing the Scarlett Johansson-starrer. UNDER THE SKIN is simply a mind-blowing experience; an intricate fable about a beautiful predator who slowly acknowledges the humanness she briefly adapted in a chilly Scotland where unsuspecting man-preys are the real monsters.

I may have used a lot of adjectives to describe UNDER THE SKIN but all the same, the film still makes me speechless. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that not even any 3D/4D/IMAX movie can match. It was the surreal marriage of science fiction and art house that enamored me and Scarlett was just an icing on the wedding cake. Sounds cliché but the beauty of UNDER THE SKIN does not simply run skin-deep; it rushes to the nerves that tingles of fascination and fear on the woman wearing the fur coat.

Scarlett Johansson as the alien in ‘Under The Skin’

UNDER THE SKIN is flawless (no pun intended) of its cinematic elements, making the blend of art house and science fiction the most impeccable among its species. Most sci-fi production sets took significant resources to build their fictional settings, including the special effects. UNDER THE SKIN is a minimalist work of art, coated of plain vanilla but layered of subtle messages. Both the alien and the snowy town of Scotland share the same air of mystery; the weather chilly and her motives chilling. The camera is angled in such a way that implores viewers to not just simply watch Scarlett. Shifting the perspective from audience to alien, they do not ogle but absorb but what they observe. From that, UNDER THE SKIN embodies how the genre succeeds: science fiction is not a fleeting memory; it’s an experience.

And science is just one half of the film’s ingenious biology. UNDER THE SKIN is brimming of striking and haunting imagery. The film does not resort to violence which it leaves to the audience’s presumption (except the alien hitting the man with a rock). Rather, its peculiar horrors resonate, and even yield twice the desired effect. The abandoned crying baby stilled for more than five seconds was painful to watch. And when the eerie music plays to signal the unimaginable scene which was this: (SPOILER!)

…makes me lost of words. UNDER THE SKIN has the unique ability of fascinating and frightening its viewers. That scene, in particular, was the first of its kind that I have ever seen and what happens underneath was a shocker. How bizarre and brilliantly executed it was! But the tricky message UNDER THE SKIN bares is not the roaming extra-terrestrial threat but the helplessness on sexual abuse which the alien was not spared of.

Sure, the alien uses her skin to seduce her preys, but these men are sexual predators themselves. Letting themselves be caught off guard for the promise of pleasure, these men fall victim to their own lustful weakness. The first half of UNDER THE SKIN was a cautionary tale; the alien stripping as a beautiful woman who knows that carnal desire is a commodity of the world she is into. The sequence, glimpsed on the above screen cap, was frightening but not to the point where the audience fear for the victims’ lives. It is their choice after all, and even as they sink, they still ogle at the woman who only wanted their meat.

The second half, however, sees the alien becomes the prey. Prior to her eventful end, she is slowly acknowledging her humanness. The alien becomes conscious of her skin and unlike the emotionless trail she led as a predator, she began to feel sympathy on her last victim. In her awkward attempts, she experienced become a human being. Not that she liked it (she did not like the taste of chocolate cake), but she marveled on the kind of life that the skin exposed her. (SPOILER!) But her experience of human existence was short-lived because of an attempted rape, which even an alien was unable to escape.

UNDER THE SKIN undresses the monsters of science fiction and reality. On one hand is an extra-terrestrial creature, the other is the rapist. But who is the real monster? Who must be more feared and punished? (SPOILER!) The alien burned to her death as the physical struggle from her rapist revealed her actual form. It is queer to realize that what makes us human also makes us evil. I feared for the alien’s life but as the smoke from her ashes rose to the sky, it was clear to me that she was not supposed to stay on this world any longer. She is an alien, after all, but innocent as she was, it was still cruel for her to experience such crime.

Many men come and go but I consider UNDER THE SKIN as a one-woman show. Having played a seductress many times already, Scarlett Johansson is mesmerizing as she brings her femme fatale role to the astronomical level. As the alien, she only speaks when necessary (with a perfect English accent) but it is through her eyes that Scarlett conveys her character’s feelings of stoic, curiosity, and terror effectively. Scarlett finds herself in a smart vehicle (no pun intended) that showcases her subtleties as an actress. UNDER THE SKIN was her first film which she bared her all, and it was not self-imposed and self-important. It was unpretentious and instrumental to the film’s message.

Loosely adapted from Michel Faber’s novel of the same title, UNDER THE SKIN is a must-see for sci-fi enthusiasts and even to those who are just interested on seeing Scarlett as an alien. One of the weirdest and thought-provoking films I had seen, UNDER THE SKIN is more than what meets the eye; it is an immersing experience that should not be missed. 🙂