Over the last one year, I allowed myself the liberty of indulging in cinema that could broadly be classified under the genre ‘Never Coming to a Theatre near You’. This categorisation owes a huge debt of gratitude to Kenneth Turan, the LA Times film critic, who has authored a book by the same name, which is a ready reckoner of sorts to more than 100 independent films, and documentaries that are a must-see for any cinephile worth his madness.
Having landed a copy of this book at a Landmark sale in Chennai close to seven years ago, I had rummaged through its pages in an attempt to discover how many of those films I had seen. As expected I had fallen short by a huge margin. But the lesson wasn’t lost on me as I find occasions to keep going back and forth to Turan’s wonderful work, rediscovering filmmakers whose potential had already been hinted at by the critic.
One such director, who finds a mention in this book, is Jonathan Glazer, credited with helming the British gangster drama Sexy Beast, which features Ben ‘Gandhi’ Kingsley’s most frightening performance to date. I had watched this film only two years ago, in the aftermath of which I went rushing back to Turan’s book to corroborate my emotions with that of the author. More than anything, it was the joy of going back to a friend who had made a brilliant cinematic recommendation, and reliving its vicarious pleasures all over again.
As luck would have it, Glazer went on to make two distinctly oddball films after that – the Nicole Kidman-starrer Birth (2004), a highly controversial psychological thriller I am yet to see; and nine years later, Under the Skin (2013), which boasts the talents of Scarlett Johansson. The latter film is also indirectly responsible for resuscitating this blog post which has been in limbo for close to three months.
Under the Skin features Johansson playing an otherworldly creature, albeit a gorgeous one at that, who is dropped onto good ol’ Planet Earth, right in the middle of Scotland, from God-knows-where. Her agenda is to lure unsuspecting Scotsmen to an understandably, irresistible honey trap, sealing their inexplicable fates in a series of sequences whose ambiguity has drawn comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Quite simply, the film is an alien’s kaleidoscopic point of view of humanity – how we would come across to someone, who has absolutely no clue of our existence or our ecosystem whatsoever. While the concept of ‘We’re not alone,’ has been explored in a million different ways, in literature, cinema, music and pop culture, rarely has it been tackled in so affecting a manner. The deliberately paced film is coupled with a sense of unending dread, an absence of spoken dialogue, bizarre and mesmerising imagery, set to the beats of an unnerving, drone-like soundtrack by Mica Levi.
All these elements combine to make Under the Skin an extremely uneasy, challenging, at times frustrating, but strangely rewarding film-going experience. It also stands in stark contrast to the fashion, in which supposedly mass-market films are pitched, created, distributed and consumed in India. A case in point being the latest Aamir Khan-starrer PK, which has courted controversy on account of being inspired by the Kevin Spacey starrer K-Pax, a story of yet another humanoid alien landing on Earth and finding his way around homo sapiens. The two films are named somewhat similarly, or maybe that’s just me. I am yet to see both these film, and I might skip either of them, for no particular reason.
But if PK is anything like its predecessor, 3 Idiots, a film I consider, in my inconsequential opinion, a highly overrated, preachy and patronising gag fest of the highest order, I am in for trouble, for I have promised a friend to accompany her to this ‘leave your brains behind, discover the child inside you (I sincerely hope not)’ session of desi entertainment. Godspeed to me.