Michel Faber tunnels Under the Skin

I read Under the Skin again recently, so I’m reblogging this book review from almost five years ago, ’cause anyone who’s into weirdness will love this book (and the movie too). A special thank you to Comics Grinder, Assholes Watching Movies, and Charles French Words Reading and Writing, my only followers back then, for giving it a like! Have a nice holiday, everyone.

“Even in the nacreous hush of a winter dawn, when the mists were still dossed down in the fields on either side, the A9 could not be trusted to stay empty for long.”

And the journey begins.

Pulled in by the lilting, almost soothing language, one might expect a benign story concerning suburban life: the good daughter’s dating a biker, or the grandfather’s hiding a secret from his long ago boyhood.

But Michel Faber’s 2000 novel “Under the Skin” leads us down a dark and disturbing road which, while weaving in and out of the lives of ordinary people, ultimately reveals the last thing on anybody’s mind: an unthinkable and malevolent and alien agenda.

“Isserley always drove straight past a hitchhiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs.”

Okay, so now we’re thinking along the lines of “Looking For Mr. Goodbar,” right? This Isserley has done this before, and she’ll probably do it again. She wants men. Maybe she’s a sex addict. Or just wants a good time.

Yes, she does. If a good time involves randomly offering men a ride, casually asking seemingly innocent questions about their lives and then, once she’s determined no one will be looking for them anytime soon,  injecting them with a drug and delivering their unconscious body to the secret slaughterhouse that’s hidden below a farm.

Because she’s an alien, physically altered to look more or less human, and human beings are a delicious delicacy and in great demand on her home planet.

In the movie based on the novel, one of the most bizarre and riveting and sinister and ghoulish moments came when Scarlett Johansson, who plays Isserley, is walking through a strangely lightless space over a mirror-like surface while she peels off her clothing, luring an entranced male who follows, fugue-like, after her, pulling his clothes off, too, until he is nude.

But while Isserley stands, still clad in her bra and jeans, firmly atop the mirror-shiny surface, the man slowly begins to sink down into it as he walks, and yet he keeps walking forward, determined to reach Isserley who remains above, out of reach, watching. And he continues moving forward, calmly, still silently staring at Isserley, as if what’s happening to him isn’t even registering, until he disappears beneath the black surface.

 

I won’t describe what happens to this and other fellows in a later scene; you’ll have to see it for yourselves. But suffice it to say that I don’t have the adjectives available to relate the utter horror of what transpires.

So an alien race has come to Earth and is secretly kidnapping, fattening up, then slaughtering men whom, presumably, no one will notice are missing. There’s a lot more to this story, though, in the novel, compared to the movie. In the novel we discover that the population on Isserley’s home world is as stratified and unevenly divided when it comes to resources and who receives them as is Earth’s, and Isserley was more or less forced to take this job.

But as time goes on, Isserley finds herself transforming again—this time emotionally—as she slowly develops empathy for the humans she heretofore had simply thought of as meat.

 

There’s an interesting parallel with our own “meat” industry, how we view animals, how we round them up for our consumption. The author has stated that while he does question our methods and entire perspective on the slaughter of animals, the book was not written as a treatise on that or any one subject.

This was a rare occasion where, in my opinion, the movie was as effective as the book, and both are worth pursuing. An interesting take on “alien life” in the universe that’s a far cry from E.T., “Starman,” or even Superman, where a powerful, single-minded deviant presence inhabits our world, lacking even a shred of positive intention.

Imagine standing in “the prehistoric stillness” of an early morning. With the “mists still dossed down in the fields.” You are alone. Everything calm and quiet. Ordinary. Maybe almost beautiful. Then you see that one car. Coming down the road toward you…

23 thoughts on “Michel Faber tunnels Under the Skin

  1. I had forgotten about this film Stace. It was a chilling but interesting view. May I dissent though, with your view that “the last thing on anybody’s mind” is “an unthinkable and malevolent and alien agenda”. Hasn’t it become almost a standard news theme now? More and more UFO sightings, combined with rising military acknowledgements of alien contact. ‘They Live’ has always been one of my favourite films, whether or not it is meant to be allegorical.
    Anyway, thanks for the reminder that Faber is a fine writer. Time to start my Xmas list!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Henry! Yeah, really atmospheric movie, right? And I have so many books on my list to read, it’s almost like HOW DARE I re-read something, you know? lol

    Like

  3. Beautifully written piece, Stacey. I’m not familiar with the book and because Science Fiction is not usually my cup of tea, I’ve purposely overlooked the movie. But your post has made me second guess myself, in a good way. I want to see the movie and I want to read the book.

    I like that you mention Looking for Mr. Goodbar. It’s a movie that was poorly reviewed, but one that I always appreciated. Yes, it’s a bleak tale. And, yes, it leaves you with an unsettling feeling, but to me that’s the power of its artistry.

    I know the critics liked the movie, Under Her Skin. I’m sure they liked the book as well. Even so, I suspect it leaves you with that Looking for Mr. Goodbar feeling. I’m ready for a taste.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You have a very open mind to even consider it, Pam, ’cause when something’s not in genres I’m fond of, it takes a LOT to get me in there, haha. I’m not sure either of these would be your cup of tea, actually. But if you found yourself waiting for a bus somewhere with nothing to do and found a copy of Under the Skin sitting besides you… maybe then you might just take a peek. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! I didn’t get a notice of this reply either. Weird. Oh well…I’ll just have to double check your site when I correspond. Ha!

      So I watched the film today. I had a couple of hours so I went for it. I’m a Scarlett Johanson fan. I thought it was very well done. I liked the reverse predator angle…and then it flips again…and that brings the tragic/predator element home. So yeah, from a stylistic, thematic point of view I really liked it. The cinematography and special effects…that under the water/goop scene when the guy sees what he’s in store for…whew! Very effective.

      That said, yeah, the genera’s not my cup of tea, but you knew that. I enjoyed it though. I’ll probably skip the book, even though I’m sure it’s better than the movie because they almost always are.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Gaaaah! Same thing happening here, Pam. No notifications !!! So frustrated. I never even saw this reply from you.
    Well, I’m glad you got to see the film. I agree about style and theme–very effective. Glad you enjoyed it, regardless of sci-fi being fairly low on your list, haha. Thanks for the update, and happy holiday to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Stacey. Yeah, WordPress…oh well…I got your reply to the Double Dutch Bus story. Sorry about just now responding. You know how busy this time of year is, especially for those who are prone to procrastination, a.k.a., me! Anyway, I’ve thought about Under the Skin since seeing it–that’s a sign that I need to watch it again. As for the Double Dutch Bust post…par for the course for the record biz, especially back then. I have no idea how it is now. Yes, we are on the periphary of the music biz…the much maligned wedding DJs. Yay! Well, in truth we do a lot more events than just weddings but that’s our specialty, our bread and butter.

      Merry Christmas to you too, Stacey! I hope you have a great one.
      Your friend,
      Pam

      Liked by 1 person

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