Now that Scarlett Johansson’s “Under the Skin” movie has been released in New York and Los Angeles (last Friday), and starting tomorrow will be shown “in select cities,” I’ll have to make my decision. Do I really want to go see it?
As a UFOlogist, I think I ought to. (If only for the imagery of the single eye, as in the shot to the right.) My personal preference, though, would be to give it a pass.
In case you don’t know the story …
“Scarlett Johansson as an extraterrestrial femme fatale cruising the streets of Glasgow … is an indelible personification of predatory allure … a heartless humanoid temptress from outer space. … She periodically stops to ask for directions from men, then offers them a ride and beckons them to follow her as she removes her clothes and sidles backward. For her entranced victims, shown wading up to their chests in a consuming black void, the end is at hand.” (From Stephen Holden’s review in NYTimes.com.)
These men, it seems, are destined to be “turned into high-end meat delicacies for domestic consumption on her home planet,” although I gather this isn’t made entirely clear in the movie.
I can’t say any more about the film until I’ve seen it, which I’m not sure I have the stomach for. This is an ET who makes her 1950s forebears, the (cinematic) “Astounding She-Monster” and the (allegedly real-life) spacewoman who abducted and had her way with Brazilian farmer Antonio Villas-Boas, look like Girl Scouts.
Which they sort of were. The She-Monster, although radioactive and deadly to the touch, turned out to be a well-intentioned creature, dispatched from a benevolent “Council of Planets” to help us troubled earthlings. As for Villas-Boas, he suffered from what appears to be a mild form of radiation sickness after his intense sexual experience aboard the UFO. But his symptoms passed. His space seductress, with her “slanted outward” eyes that “look[ed] as if they were slit,” never meant him any harm. If she didn’t make good on her implied promise to come back for Villas-Boas and take him to her home planet–presumably for domesticity, certainly not for consumption–well, who can blame her? The single encounter was its own reward.
But then comes the horrific Natasha Henstridge character in the 1995 movie “Species,” and now this. As the culture has changed over the past half-century, its female aliens have grown exponentially nastier. (And sex scarier? That wasn’t supposed to happen.)
Nothing new under the sun, though. And definitely not in the unconscious. Albert Kallis’s brilliant, sinister 1958 poster advertising “The Astounding She-Monster,” which I blogged about last week and reproduce at the bottom of this post, seems almost to foreshadow “Species” and “Under the Skin.” (Notice the eye, the hands.) More than 2000 years ago the male writers of the Bible were already spinning fantasies of this kind, warning with eerie appropriateness against the danger of the … “alien woman.”
Book of Proverbs, chapter 7:
“And, behold, there met him a woman …
She caught him and kissed him …
‘ This day … came I forth to meet thee,
To seek thy face, and I have found thee. …
I have perfumed my bed
With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning …'”
The poor, dumb innocent. “He goeth after her straightway, / As an ox that goeth to the slaughter … / And knoweth not that it is at the cost of his life.”
And talk about “consuming black voids” …
” … she hath cast down many wounded;
Yea, a mighty host are all her slain.
Her house is the way to the netherworld,
Going down to the chambers of death.”
“She.“ Not just a harlot, not just an adulteress, although she’s both. She’s something monstrous, something uncanny. Truly, “the alien woman.”
Or take the riff on this theme from the Kabbalistic classic The Zohar, written sometime around the end of the 13th century CE:
“The secret of secrets:
Out of the scorching noon of Isaac,
out of the dregs of wine,
a fungus emerged, a cluster,
male and female together,
red as a rose,
expanding in many directions and paths.
The male is called Sama’el,
his female always included within him.
Just as it is on the side of holiness,
so it is on the other side:
male and female embracing one another.
The female of Sama’el is called Serpent,
Woman of Whoredom,
End of All Flesh, End of Days.
Two evil spirits joined together:
the spirit of the male is subtle;
the spirit of the female is diffused in many ways and paths
but joined to the spirit of the male.
“She bedecks herself with all kinds of jewelry
like an abhorrent prostitute posing on the corner to seduce men.
The fool who approaches her–
she grabs him and kisses him,
pours him wine from the dregs, from the venom of vipers.
As soon as he drinks, he strays after her.
Seeing him stray from the path of truth,
she strips herself of all her finery that she dangled before that fool,
her adornments for seducing men:
her hair all arranged, red as a rose,
her face white and red,
six trinkets dangling from her ears,
her bed covered with fabric from Egypt,
on her neck all the jewels of the East,
her mouth poised, a delicate opening,
what lovely trappings!
The tongue pointed like a sword,
her words smooth like oil,
her lips beautiful, red as a rose,
sweet with all the sweetness of the world.
She is dressed in purple,
adorned with forty adornments minus one.
“This fool follows her, drinks from the cup of wine,
fornicates with her, deviates after her.
What does she do?
She leaves him sleeping in bed.
She ascends, denounces him, obtains permission, and descends.
That fool wakes up and plans to play with her as before.
But she removes her decorations
and turns into a powerful warrior confronting him.
Arrayed in armor of flashing fire,
his awesome terror vibrates the victim’s body and soul.
He is full of fearsome eyes;
in his hand a sharp-edged sword drips bitter drops.
He kills that fool and flings him into hell.” (Translated by Daniel Matt)
It helps if you know something of the Kabbalistic background. For instance, that “Isaac,” “wine,” and the color red–the central color in this passage, and I gather in “Under the Skin” as well–are all symbols of the harsh, judgmental aspect of God. Split off from the rest of the Divinity, these turn into the Demonic. (“Sama’el” is a traditional Hebrew name for Satan.) Also that in the Kabbalah the Divine is androgynous, “male and female embracing one another,” and the Demonic is too.
But you don’t need these technicalities to get the point. The Zohar’s story speaks for itself–in the glowing, hideous, horrific colors of sexual terrors embedded deep within the male unconscious. It comes across vivid, cinematic. Somebody ought to make a movie of it.
Or has that already been done?
by David Halperin
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