The Scarlett Johansson Trilogy

Coincidentally, the last three movies have all featured Scarlett Johansson (or at least her voice) and have all been pretty good. Neither of those are statements I ever expected to write.

First of was Her. Johansson played the voice of the OS (operating system) that Joaquin Phoenix’s character fell in love with. She was very good in that, I have to admit. Having her performance separated from her famous body enabled one to get a better appreciation of her qualities as an actor. And speaking of acting, the movie also drove home the fact that while Phoenix was going through his crazy period, we were missing out on all the great movie performances we could have had during that time. He really is that good. And the movie, at its best, was a moving and realistic depiction of how a relationship grows, develops, and the breaks apart as two people find themselves drifting further away their shared spaces and experiences. That being said… I’m not sure what the point of the movie was. I mean, I know… relationships, technology, singularity, blah, blah, blah. But… I don’t know. It wasn’t that it was cold or passionless, but the passion came from the great acting. Why did director Spike Jonze make this film? I don’t know, because I felt no passion from behind the camera and it left me feeling a little let down and betrayed. It made the whole less than the sum of its parts.

Spoiler alerts coming, by the way.

Captain America: Winter Soldier was, as the reviews have often noted, the best of the recent spate of Marvel universe films (which is to say, excluding the Spiderman movies). I’m also biased because I liked the first Captain America movie better than any but the first Iron Man movie. The unironic, straightforwardness of it appealed to me.

This one is more convoluted but solves, or at least, works around, what has always been the character’s conundrum. Captain America was created during World War II and makes the most sense in the (relative) black and white world of that conflict. Like most of the best comic book story arc around the Captain, this one plays on the boy scout being thrust into a complex situation and trying to still be a boy scout. Chris Evans is suitably boyish and charismatic. Scarlett Johansson looks good in Diana Riggs’ old skin tight catsuit from her Avengers days (not the Marvel Avengers, but the old British tv show). And Robert Redford should play more villains. Never one to overact, he drips menace, without raising his voice and with boyish, rakish twinkle in eye.

I have some qualms (the Winter Soldier looks too boyishly handsome not menacing enough when he’s not wearing a mask), but it’s got a nice, though imperfect combo of action and conspiracy flick.

Under the Skin is deeply alien. In an awesome way. Johansson plays an alien wearing the ‘skin’ of a human being to lure other humans to her lair for… some kind of harvesting. The harvesting isn’t Cronenberg-seque, really, but there’s a definite element of body horror.

The movie is from Johansson’s (she’s never given a name) point of view. How to make relatable an alien who is deeply alienated in her reactions to and understanding of our world? Easy. The movie takes place in Scotland and the other characters (Johansson speaks with a decent, but not great, generic British accent) have heavy, sometimes nearly incomprehensible Glaswegian accents. The landscapes are deliberately alien looking. They’re clearly earth landscapes, but it would no surprise to learn that everyone of them had been used as stand in for an alien planet in a long ago episode of Doctor Who.

When she’s scared, we feel and empathize with her fear, even though, in another movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger would be hunting her down before she kills again.

And yes, there’s nudity. She gets naked. But if that’s your reason for seeing it, you’ll be a little disappointed. Not just because her body is good, but not great, but also because there are far more shots of unobstructed full front nudity by men in various stages of tumescence. She draws them onto a reflective black floor, leading them on by slowly taking off her clothes (most of the time, just bra and panties are enough to get them men to drop their pants) and once the men are full naked, the floor turns into thick black sludge that they blithely walk into and finally under, while it remains firm beneath her feet. It’s very yonic (when they walk into the place where that black floor exists – the room and building changing over the course of the movie – the walk into a lightless black opening), but the alien lacks a true vagina. Her sex organs are literally only skin deep (as she finds out when trying to have sex).

The whole thing is mysterious and strange and resists easy meaning or interpretation, but it’s an amazing piece of film making and Johansson does very, very well. Partly, she is called upon to be a siren, who leads men happily to their death via the irresistible lure of the promise of her body, but she’s also a cipher, trying to figure out what it means to be human. She is never human, but wearing the skin affects her and she does embark on an exploration of what the human skin means.

Go see it.

 

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