Book vs. Movie: Under the Skin

Movie poster for Under the SkinI finally had a chance to watch Under the Skin and it’s an interesting adaptation of the book by Michel Faber (see my post on the book here). The movie was directed by Jonathan Glazer and stars Scarlett Johansson. As is typical, while there were quite a few things that I liked about the movie, there were definitely some differences from the book:

  • Isserly is way too pretty in the movie version. They would have had to do some serious makeup and changes on Scarlett Johansson in order to “dumb her down” to the level of Isserly in the book. However, the change works. Isserly’s job, after all is to be able to attract men, and who are we to question what kind of scientific talents the aliens have in body modification. This change in her appearance may also have allowed for the discarding of the “icpathua” needles in the seat of the car, since it is much more likely that her prey will be cooperative.
  • The setting of the movie is more suburb or city scenes, rather than rural highways and a farm. Glazer’s choice of using real-time interactions with people in the final film would probably have made picking up hitchhikers pretty unsustainable for filming. I think that this change actually makes the premise more believable than cruising for guys on the highway.
  • Because there is not much dialogue and no narrative, it becomes much less clear what exactly the aliens are up to. However, the abductions are still pretty creepy, even without the backstory from Faber’s book, and while the movie loses quite a bit of the original meaning it is still scary.
  • There is an added, longer interaction between Isserly and a human male, and I guess it can be argued that he takes some pains to take care of her. This situation ultimately sets the stage for the ending of the movie, but I do think the true impact of what is going on here may be a little unclear unless you have read the book.
  • The movie ends at a different point and in a quite different manner than the book. Partly, I think this is because Isserly’s motivation cannot be communicated to the viewer, so keeping with the original ending doesn’t really make sense. However, the choices made here still provide an impact, and the final scenes of Isserly’s true form are good.

NOTE: Possible spoilers follow.

So, changes aside, there were several things about the movie that I liked:

  • The music choices worked for me. Music plays a very minimal part in the movie overall, which fits with the rest of the techniques, but the use of the mainly heavy, sultry bass riffs when Isserly has secured the men in her lair, plays well with the seductiveness of her character.
  • Isserly’s creepy and completely black lair. This is an interesting aspect, not only because of the quicksand like floor that sucks down Isserly’s prey while she walks lightly on top, but also because the guys actually follow her into this decrepit building with basically no lighting! (Most of me wants to believe that this is not something that would really happen. Sigh.)

Man getting sucked down into the floor of Isserly's lair

  • The extremely disturbing beach drowning scene. This scene definitely captures the complete lack of empathy that both Isserly and her weird helpers have for the human race. Watching her reactions to the situation is bad, but watching both her and and the helpers walk past the crying toddler is worse.
  • The addition of Isserly picking up a deformed man and actively working to seduce him was extremely disturbing. It’s not quite clear, but it seems that she may have later regretted this and released him before he could be “processed”, and it looked like this could have been a turning point for her in gaining empathy with those she is hunting.

The basic themes that run through the book have to do with empathy and sexuality. In the movie, these are still present, but they have been streamlined and are communicated in ways that, due to the lack of dialogue or narrative, require a little additional thought process by the viewer. Capturing the additional ideas in the book specifically surrounding empathy for food sources, would have required much more time and a different approach. I think that what we get from the movie version is a different, but no less interesting portrayal of Isserly. Throughout most of the movie, she comes across as much more capable and calculating than Faber had portrayed her. She is a more sexualized being who is wielding that aspect of herself with a much more sure hand than Faber’s character, but then her physical appearance is also much more in line with the typical human stereotypes.

I liked the overall minimalism of the movie and the way that Glazer has managed to capture the disturbing nature of Faber’s work. If you are into the weird, you might want to give this one a viewing.

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