Experimentation has always been a tricky subject within the various artistic disciplines – just as there are always those who advocate change and outward-thinking within such diverse areas of creativity as painting, sculpture, architecture, and music, there are always those who prefer to hold on to more conventional modes of expression, sticking with what is known to be effective and true.
As far as movies are concerned, there is a strange paradox in claims to conventionality over experimentation, for even though film is still such a young medium, a real sense of tradition has developed in regards to fictional narrative, and any forays into more alternative areas of visual or thematic expression can yield sharp sensations of discomfort and disapproval on the part of an audience.
I’ll admit that I have a hard time withstanding a movie like Under the Skin, and it behooves me to realize whether this is because I find it to be a poor work of art, or simply because it so blatantly challenges my preconceived notions of what can and cannot be achieved onscreen. I do not think that Under the Skin is good, but is that merely because I am not willing to believe what I see? Whatever feelings of satisfaction met me at various stages in the process of watching this movie were always undone in the next scene; the tempo and pull would always be checked by its repetitiveness, or by its use of visual abstractions for supernatural events. I was intrigued whenever the movie’s focus shifted to something more human, but very often it resembled an exhibition of conceptual art rather than an outright fictional narrative.
We all look for different things in the movies, and I know that I personally look for truthful elucidations of the human condition. How appropriate, then, that this highly alienating movie is about an alien, a body snatcher – albeit one that has a change of heart. There is a lot that is interesting and cleverly-conceived about this film – but in the end, it seems to escape any sort of strong emotional grounding and instead relies solely upon motif and concept. It is very common for newly-smelted creative alloys to show a stain of prematurity, because whatever new sensibilities they embrace are so new and untested. I think that this is one such instance, where the ideas look new but shallow.
What to call this sort of work involving a rapid succession of frozen images projected onto a screen? Not a movie, because movies move us. Films, however, can merely be filmed objects – documentations of ideas, no more substantial than the thin layer of light being projected onto a blank, white canvas. Much like its protagonist, Under the Skin is a cold, sterile phenomenon masking itself within what can be a very human medium. It may tempt some, but in the end, it will burn up and rot away, for having never attained that sense of humanity necessary for a lasting place in this densely-populated world.