Scotland, aliens and Scarlett Johansson together at last. You couldn’t write this, yet Michael Faber has and Über-talent Jonathan Glazer has brought it to life in a bleak and darkly erotic showcase. The story revolves around Johansson, stalking unwitting Scotsmen around Glasgow in a white van (yes, really) before taking them back to her lair and devouring them in a black oil of extra-terrestrial digestive juices. What’s not to get excited about? (There will be spoilers here – a forewarning).
The incredible soundtrack by Mica Levi, Glazer’s visual feast which will make your eyes positively bilious whilst watching the trailer and journalists banding around the ‘Hold on to your hats! Here’s the next Kubrick!’ statements can only serve to make even the most cynical of viewers get swept-up in the hype machine. Therefore, I’d come in with high expectations and unfortunately, it would never live up to what you play out in your mind before you see it.
I think the critics pulling the Kubrickian similes were unfounded and that was initially the biggest issue for me. Pregnant pauses, luscious composition and the use of centrality in the framing were there, but that’s where the comparison ended. Secretive filming is innovative, but not Kubrickian. It’s all just slightly contrived and none so more as when Johansson starts to understand what being human actually means. This occurs when she encounters someone with a facial imperfection. She takes him back to her lair, swallows him in her black alien goo and in a postprandial torpor, unwittingly catches sight of herself in the mirror. This then becomes her motivation to just simply let him go. It would have been ambiguous and more powerful to have not caught sight of herself perhaps. Weak, damaged but still capable of love is an obvious remark to make and we’re more savvy these days as an audience. That being said, the thing I did like about it is that we are absolutely seeing the world through her eyes and in that respect, it is a remarkable vision from Glazer on what it’s like to be human and what I would imagine (as a big, daft, male) to be a woman under the consistent sexual gaze of men.
The shift in perception from her as predator to prey was also brilliantly executed and perhaps the most poignant scene for me is where she checks to see if she has sexual organs and realises she doesn’t. She wants to be loved but physically, it’s an impossibility and a powerful metaphor on what it’s like to have your sexuality taken away from you by abuse or trauma. I think her vacant stares at an entire family dying on the beach also exacerbate this; one of the most emotionally desolate scenes seen on film. However, as the film continues down it’s dark and dingy Scottish bridal path it’s apparent that just because she’s an alien and detached, doesn’t mean she’s invincible; we all have our weaknesses and that’s perhaps what ultimately makes us human. Whether physically or emotionally, we are all linked by imperfection and vulnerability. She therefore has more in common with her victims than she realises.
The thing about film I love is when it makes you think and mull it over in your mind long after the event. It succeeds on that level, but I’m still feeling a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing. It was bleak, brutal and unforgiving and maybe that’s what Glazer is saying about the human sprit, but perhaps that’s equally just my cynical perception. I think I need to see it again, it has everything I love in a film but I can’t quite bring myself to like it, yet.