Under The Skin is a Sci-FI Drama directed by Jonathan Glazer. It stars Scarlet Johansson in the lead role. The film also sees Jeremy McWilliams who is a real-life bike racer. The film consists of a mix of both scripted as well as candid shots. Apparently, they later took permissions from each of the candid stars before they became part of the final film. The movie does test your patience with its pace. Before you read further, spoiler alert.
The director doesn’t reveal clearly the intentions of the characters in the film. So, as viewers, we need to interpret a lot. And interpretations mean that there will be more than one. Which is cool because that always leads to a healthy discussion. I will go through the plot and try and piece together the overall story and the characters. Please do drop in comments with your interpretations and elements that I may have missed out.
There are two main characters, I’ll call them The Woman (Scarlett) and Bike Guy (Jeremy). We know for sure that The Woman is an alien, we’re shown this in the end. Though Bike Guy is not shown to be an alien at any point in the film, it is fair to assume that he is. Not just any alien but someone who The Woman is reporting to.
The film begins with creepy music and visuals. You can hear The Woman’s voice going through a series of phonetics like Kuh, Zzz, B-B-Buh, etc. We can assume this to be the alien preparing to speak the prominent Earth language – English.
Right after this, we are shown Bike Guy pick up a body that he has stashed. He takes it to a van and takes the van back to his lair. After that, we are shown The Woman take the clothes off this dead woman and wear them. Right after we are shown circling lights in the sky – this could be the indication of an alien spaceship(s) hiding in plain sight.
Who’s the dead woman? Why are the aliens on Earth?
Like I mentioned, answers to neither of the questions are really stated explicitly in the film. It’s up to our interpretation. The dead woman could be someone Bike Guy has located whose identity The Woman will now take on. This dead woman could either be a human or she could be an alien herself. An alien who was killed while doing her job on Earth. The aliens are on Earth seeking out men. The men aren’t really random. These are men who are selected based on how alone they are. The Woman goes around seeking out these men. Once she finds her prey, she leads them to a harvest pool. Men are harvested for their skin and perhaps … meat. More on this later.
The Woman comes out and gets into the van. Bike Guy drives away. The Woman heads to a mall and shops for clothes. She buys herself a top and a fur coat. She also applies makeup on her face after watching other humans do so. She begins her hunt. Many of the people she ends up speaking with are part of candid shots. These were general people on the road who were captured via hidden camera. She eventually finds her first prey. She takes him back to her lair.
The Harvest Pool
Okay, we’re just going to have to assume that somehow the aliens have set up a way to enter an old building but get transported to a large void. The void has a reflective floor which behaves like water but selectively. The humans who walk on this get submerged. The Woman, however, walks right on top of it. In this place, the humans also seem to be in some kind of trance. They aren’t noticing anything but The Woman. They don’t see the floor or the fact that they are being eaten up by it. In this Harvest Pool, the human preys stay (alive) for a while and are disintegrated till nothing but skin is left floating. The Woman leads her first prey into this pool as she walks away seductively, stripping. We aren’t shown what happens to the guy other than the bit that he sinks into the floor.
Baby on the Beach
The scene to follow is the beach scene with the baby. This one is incredibly cold and heartless. Of course, the heart is a human thing after all. The Woman is at a beach. She talks to a guy who seems to be a loner. In the distance, we see a family whose dog has gone too far into the sea. The wife has gone after her dog. We then see the husband go after the wife. The swimmer stops talking to The Woman and rushes to save the family. He brings the husband back to shore. The wife and dog get washed away. The husband goes back and, he too, gets washed away. The swimmer is winded out and is lying on the shore. The family’s baby is sitting by itself crying out. Strangely The Woman strikes and kills the tired swimmer with a stone. She drags him away, puts him in the van, and drives away (perhaps to the Harvest Pool). Bike Guy shows up and clears out the swimmer’s tent and leaves the still-crying-out baby on the beach. Brrr.
Next, The Woman goes to a club (which has Darude’s Sandstorm playing, haven’t heard that track in a while!). In here, she finds her next prey. She takes him to the pool and he drowns. After that, we are shown him witness an earlier victim getting drained till only skin is floating about. We are shown some red gooey stuff being sent on a conveyor belt. We can assume that is human meat. Perhaps it is a delicacy on their planet?
The Woman gets some flowers sent to her from a guy passing by in another car. She notices some blood on the plastic and reacts nervously to it. The blood is from the guy who’s selling the flowers. It’s a thorn prick. On the news, she hears about the family that drowned. For the first time, The Woman has an emotional reaction. The nature of the alien’s being under the skin of a human is somehow instilling human emotions in her.
It’s All In The Eyes
The next person she gives a ride begins talking about her eyes. She leads the guy into the pool. After this, Bike Guy meets The Woman. He too investigates her eyes. He doesn’t say anything and walks away. Looks like there is some amount of measure in the eyes of the aliens. We aren’t told what this is but can be associated with The Woman’s increasing emotional connect.
The Woman goes walking and happens to trip and fall. She’s motionless for a while and people help her up. She’s pretty shaken by it. Perhaps this is because she is beginning to feel fear for the first time. She continues to drive around. A bunch of guys attack her van. She drives away. She runs into a man who has a disfigured face (Adam).
A thing to know here is that Adam Pearson has a real condition. It is not makeup. The condition is called neurofibromatosis. Adam’s real twin brother is also genetically affected but it’s not on his face. He has short-term memory loss. This is not related to the film in anyway but trivia I thought is worth knowing.
The Woman begins seducing Adam. She’s not very successful in the beginning. Finally, she’s able to take him to her lair. She leads him into the pool. However, on her way out, she looks at herself in the mirror. She looks at her own eyes. She feels bad for what she’s done (guilt) and releases Adam. He’s dazed and confused and makes a run for it through a field.
Bike Guy Cleans Up
Bike Guy, somehow, is keeping a tight watch on The Woman and realizes that she’s released a victim after he’s been in the pool. Bike Guy intercepts and captures Adam, puts him the trunk of a car and drives away. We can assume, he’s going to kill him. No witnesses (to the harvest pool). It is also not very clear how Bike Guy locates Adam down to the exact coordinates. Please do drop a comment if you have a theory here.
The Woman is flustered and leaves behind her fur coat. I believe this is symbolic of her leaving behind her hunter self. She stashes her van and takes a walk. Back at the lair, the Bike Guy seems to have lost the ability to track The Woman. She sits at a restaurant and orders cake. She tries to enjoy it but can’t, she spits it out.
The Mirror Scene
She continues walking and passes a guy who says the bus will be along in a minute. She waits for the bus. The driver advises her to wear something warm else she would catch a cold. The man, who boards with her, asks if she needs some help. She says yes. He is a good guy. He buys her a jacket, some groceries, takes her home, feeds her, and provides her a room for the night. She tries to understand “humour” at his house (on TV) but is unable to connect. She tries to tap her fingers to music. At this point, the alien is trying her best to get under the skin of a human being. At night, she admires her human form in the mirror for a while.
The Bike Guy seems to have his own group of Bike Guys. They all cumulatively begin searching for The Woman. The Woman makes love to the man, or at least tries to. She only has the skin of a human. She’s still an alien underneath. Again, The Woman is trying to do and feel all that humans do but is unable to because .. she’s not human. Anatomy issues.
She leaves the man and decides to go away. She hikes into a forest. A logger passes by. He acts all nice and advises her to be careful as the ground is slippery. He follows her back. She finds a shelter and decides to take a quick nap. The logger follows her back there and begins molesting her as she sleeps. She wakes up and makes a run for it. She finds a truck and tries to drive away in it. It turns out to be the truck of the logger. She runs for it again but this time the logger gets to her and drops her. She is now the prey. He begins ripping her clothes off but also rips off a part of her skin. Realizing that she’s not human, he runs away.
The Woman sits down and takes off her human skin. We are shown the face of the alien for the first time. The alien sees her human face as it looks on blinking. The logger returns with a can of fuel. He pours it on her and lights her on fire. This scene shows how a man who was lusting for a person based on her exterior goes to the extent of killing her because of what lies beneath. Ironically, this is probably what is running through the alien’s mind before she’s lit up. She catches fire as she runs for it, burns, and dies. Bike Guy is still unsuccessfully looking for her. The film ends.
This takes us back to the dead woman in the beginning. She could also have been an alien who began to feel emotions and got herself killed. Unfortunately, what the ending has left us with is very open-ended. We could view this as an alien who had one job and simply screwed up… or we can think through each of the human emotions that ran havoc in the mind of an alien bringing death upon her. Do drop comments in case you have other interesting theories, let’s speculate.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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