Jonathan Glazer Turns Science Fiction Filmmaking On Its Head


Friday, April 11, 2014

Scarlett Johansson in 'Under The Skin' Scarlett Johansson in Under The Skin (Courtesy of A24)

As a director of music videos and commercials, Jonathan Glazer has always been stylish, ambitious, and occasionally unsettling. As a director of films, Glazer has maintained his style and ambition while doubling down on unsettling. His latest feature, Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson, is a culmination of his efforts — a sci-fi flick that’s both cinematic and low-fi, and breaks all the genre’s rules.

Glazer was initially inspired by Michel Faber’s eponymous novel, about an alien seductress who harvests human flesh. “We see the horror of things, the beauty, the savagery, kindness, and she begins to have those impulses herself,” he tells Kurt Andersen. Glazer spent years adapting Under the Skin and admits his film is only “spiritually” connected to its source material. The director and his collaborators wanted to take the story into uncharted territory: “Let’s make a film that’s absolutely stands apart from every other film by virtue of the fact that it needs to be through a lens that is not human ... Things we take for granted, things we do every day, to look at that through her eyes is to re-see it in a way.”

In order to fulfill his mission, Glazer dispensed with many of the conventions of mainstream cinema. Under the Skin has little dialogue, no backstory, and is constructed around scenes filmed with a candid camera. Johannson’s alien picks male victims up in a creepy white van, and many of them were actual passers-by on the streets of Scotland, who didn’t recognize Johannson. “It was about finding a method of shooting the film which was equivalent to the story,” Glazer explains. “It has a quality to it which is very powerful that you couldn’t really replicate.”

Though Glazer worked on the film for nearly a decade, he isn’t discouraged by polarized reactions to it. “It feels right because it’s about what you bring to it,” he says. “Jean Renoir, the French director, said ‘If it causes an argument between a husband and a wife, it’s done its job.’” Kurt will attest from personal experience that Glazer’s movie has done its job.


Jonathan Glazer's 3 for 360

    Music Playlist
  • I've Got You Under My Skin
    Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
    Album: I've Got You Under My Skin
    Label: Sound and Vision
    Purchase: Amazon


Jonathan Glazer

Produced by:

Sean Rameswaram

Comments [2]

dicty from London

Unfortunately it is science fiction film because of the "alien" reveal in the last few minutes. Unfortunate because up to that point it was enigmatic: who are these people? what exactly is going on? If Glazer had left it there it would have been a flesh-creeping puzzle and a great movie but instead he gave us a resolution and hence a way out. Pity. Worse still, the final burning scene was ridiculous (to say why would be too much of a spoiler). Instead she should have been found by the motor cyclist...and then? Nevertheless an extremely interesting and well made movie with a great music score.

Apr. 14 2014 04:49 AM
mick from NYC

Come on, Kurt, what exactly makes this a "science fiction" film? From the description in this article, if you substitute only one word, "zombie", for the word "alien" you would have your typical, and currently quite popular, horror genre film without needing to change the plot in the least. Even the innovative techniques seem a bit reminiscent of "The Blair Witch Project" in outcome if not intent. When you analyze why authors like Margaret Atwood resist the label science fiction, it is pretty clear that they do not want their work to be considered in the same category as horror and fantasy fiction. As a reader of literary science fiction (and science non-fiction) I can understand them, even if Atwood's preferred definition of speculative fiction is too narrow in its focus on plot devices and not on dramatic action or lack there of.

Apr. 13 2014 08:59 PM

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