Monday, August 4, 2014

Two Movies: Under the Skin and Enemy

I watched two movies over the weekend, both from the same studio: A24, both having similar themes on consciousness and identity and awareness, but both eliciting very different reactions.

Under the Skin is all about identity and what it means to be human. We work, we sleep, we eat, we poop, so what makes everything worth living? Connections and happiness (on this point I do agree with the movie). But how do we go about making those connections? Well, sometimes we have no idea and we do it entirely wrong. I saw a few different posts on Tor that had me really interested in the movie, but in the end it just didn't stand up for me.

I liked the message this movie was sending, but unfortunately there wasn't enough story to the movie for me to actually care. Scarlett Johansson is great, but there were only a few second-long moments where she was able to shine. The whole point of her character is that she can't genuinely connect with human emotion, so most of the time her face was completely blank and she was just driving around, picking up dudes. This movie was long and weird and I really can't get into things (movies or dance performances or whatever) that use disparate chords instead of music (call it a flaw if you must, I call it inevitable after a childhood steeped in music). Not to mention, I'm usually really good at deciphering thick accents, but these Scottish accents were like molasses and I had to keep asking Phil what everyone had said.

Under the Skin also left so many things unanswered there was nothing to connect to and I found myself caring even less about the little things I liked in the film. Why is she here? Who is the motorcycle dude? Why does the lonely man elicit emotion, but the crying baby does not? (I'm pretty sure the baby's sole purpose was to make her foreign-ness stand out to the audience: a cheap trick.) This is two hours of my time I will never get back, but watch it if you're into theory or you like comparing books to movies: this was based on Under the Skin by Michael Faber. I am interested in seeing how similar the two are, and which tells a more compelling story. I'm all about flipping gender conventions and expanding the idea of what it means to be human, but dude the basic requirement is that I have to give a shit.

Enemy tackles the same themes, especially concerning identity, but to me it succeeds where Under the Skin did not. I cared about the characters. I cared about what happened. I wanted an explanation. I didn't get one, but I got enough information that I still cared, and I am still thinking about the unanswered questions. Are they two people or one person? Is it a past and future story, told nonlinearly? What the fuck is up with the spiders? (But if what I'm thinking is right, that the spiders represent his relationship with women, I love it!) Enemy feeds you just enough to keep you wanting more.

We watched this through Amazon Prime and after the credits there was an interview with Jake Gyllenhaal and the director Denis Villeneuve, which really didn't *explain* anything, but watching the lead actor and director both struggle to put the movie into their own words somehow helped to clear it up a bit for me. But still, it is so hard to put into words. There is another special feature about the women of Enemy that I also want to watch, but haven't yet.

I absolutely loved Enemy. While I already liked Jake Gyllenhaal, I respect him even more after watching him portray Adam and Anthony and seeing all the subtle differences between the two characters. Lots of reviews said this movie was slow, but I was never bored. It was like reading a good book: the faster you go the sooner it's over, so you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.  Definitely see this one.

Enemy was also based on a book: The Double by José Saramago. (In Spanish at the link but my library has an English translation!) This one I am definitely picking up, but I have a feeling the movie is going to outshine the book. It was just so brilliant.

I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks about these two movies!

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