Under the Skin

Dir: Carine Alder, 1997. Starring: Samantha Morton, Claire Rushbrook, Rita Tushingham, Christine Tremarco. Drama.
Under the Skin

What does this film, Control and Morvern Callar all have in common? They all feature arresting performances by Samantha Morton, as well as a wonderful soundtrack. I've concluded that Morton's acting career is a solid, aggressive work of art, and that the possibility of being disappointed with her does not exist. However, with Under the Skin, I think one can view her finest performance. It seems obvious that she takes direction well, but with Carine Alder's film, I believe she provided something extraordinary. Her efforts to connect with the character, and really push to bring something daring to the screen, is very inspirational. As for the director, who is a woman and unfortunately has not directed a feature film before or after this one, I also give my highest praise.

The film focuses on the lives of two sisters, Iris (Samantha Morton) and Rose (Claire Rushbrook). The two are like oil and water. Rose was named after their mother's (Rita Tushingham) favorite flower, while Iris bears the name of one with mixed meaning. They've just been informed that their mother has either 3 weeks or 3 months to live. When she does pass, the dramatic and pregnant Rose waits around for crocodile tears that never come. Iris seems untouched by her mother's death, but there is something about her that makes you believe she is devastated. They make arrangements to have her cremated and begin splitting her belongings between the two of them. Rose was the closest to her, and therefore feels entitled to just about everything. The only thing Iris wants is the ring her mother wore, which Rose steals, claiming that she can't find it in the house. While rummaging through her mother's things Iris finds a fur coat, her wig, and a pair of cheap sunglasses. As you see her putting them on, you get the sense that she'll never be the same again.

While it seems common for people to deal with loss in destructive ways, Iris takes the concept to the limit. She moves out of the apartment she shares with her boyfriend and finds her own place, and she quits her job. She begins seeing random men and taking them home, while her boyfriend Gary (Matthew Delamere) is in a fog over what went wrong. Wearing her mother's coat and wig she goes to various clubs and bars in search of something. But after a while it becomes obvious that she has simply been obsessed with her mother since childhood and the thrill of both wearing her things and performing lewd acts while dressed as her gives her a bittersweet satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Iris's best friend Vron (Christine Tremarco) and others are distancing themselves from her in fear of being embarrassed. The men she encounters have the most hideous personalities, and after awhile their monstrous ways begin to take a toll. Aside from Iris's new interest in her sex life, she also ventures to church to hear the choir sing and is reminded of the desire she once had to take up singing. Unfortunately, her nighttime activities are ruining every chance she could ever have at finding some sort of redemption. Until the end of the film, you are on the edge of your seat wondering if she will ever find peace, or if she will continue to fall apart at the seams.

Films that incorporate theories and theology are definitely some of my favorites. While this is a movie about grief, it is also a movie that deals with the whole Madonna/Whore concept that I've referenced before in past reviews. Placing scenes where Iris seems both holy and despicable really highlights the battle she is having with the desires of the flesh and soul. Without the contrast, the movie would have been dull and anticlimactic, but it works and Morton pulls off both angles perfectly. The cinematography aids the process and was absolutely stunning, and there is a great clip of Jean Painlevé's documentary-short, The Seahorse, where the majestic creatures gives birth to thousands of translucent spawn.

It really is a shame that the director doesn’t have any other works besides a short. It seems wrong to call this movie an amateur accomplishment because it is so well made. I should also mention that aside from a powerful female cast and director, the producer was also a woman. This is one of the few films I've seen that has a majority of women both on screen and behind the scenes and deals with women honestly. I recommend it to anyone, but I sincerely hope some more ladies will check it out.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Nov 3, 2010 4:43pm
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