Thursday, January 5, 2012
UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber
UNDER THE SKIN is an offbeat horror story by Michel Faber about an alien temptress who picks up muscular hitchhikers in order to have them processed as food by her superiors. The writing is superb, slowly revealing more about the alien and "her" emotions about her situation. Two things are fascinating here, the one building to the other. First, we are forced to see a view of humanity from an intelligence outside our own, with a cold calculation imposed on it from a source without sympathy or empathy, using science fiction elements. (Initially, she has more empathy with a dog, and this fact leads us to consider the mystery of why societies dehumanize people outside their group or clan.) Then, nearer the end, we are forced to toy with empathy for this alien, since she is an outcast, being used by a system within her own species. Then, ultimately, the cruelty and fear inherent in being human is dramatically shown at the very moment when she is attempting to understand human mercy. For this, the movie is a masterpiece of mood and direction, with Scarlett Johansson in the lead. It is visual, with very little dialogue, and the movie takes a different path in telling the story, so that the internal dilemma of the alien is left to the nuances of acting. (The movie is "show," the book "tell.") Those expecting a Hollywood movie with a breakneck plot will be disappointed. As for the audiobook, the narrators in both versions could hardly have been better chosen. They have the Scottish and English accents down perfectly, and lend the production a precise and affecting experience that leads to a subtle yet gripping pathos. Listening to the book first will greatly improve your understanding of the movie. Both book and movie are highly effective, but only if you're one who can appreciate original art films which convey something new in a unique way. An Audiobook of the Month.