Under The Skin – Carine Adler

Under The Skin (Poster)

Pain is beautiful. Because it wounds us, and the healing is a rejuvenation. We then wear our scars with pride, or try to hide them in shame. It is that way, all over the world.

Now drama has helped established a narrative around our wounds. First with the theater, and now with cinema which is a much more visceral, impactful art. A film like this one can be a harrowing experience, not cuz of the mere voyeurism, but because the pain displayed is undoubtedly nested within ourselves. It can be much more striking when the actors commit with apparent pain themselves (see Watson in ‘Breaking The Waves’ or Bjork two years later in a similar role). So we have Morton working the same ground here. It’s her debut (as it was for Watson and Bjork), and we can always find a place in ourselves for that kind of deliberate heroism, that commitment. We feel it’s for our sake, so we are grateful.

But film is the way it is, and we will inspect our gifts, no matter how good the intent of the giving. And here, Adler is dishonest.

She knows she is exploiting a deep sentimentality within us, a pity and clemence we allow Morton, so she sticks to that and that only. This kills right away any meaningful understanding we might gain from a story of pain, and attemps to cash in on our empathy. I saw this along with ‘High Tide’ with Judi Davis. That film is rooted in the character’s eye, so that what we see are the detonators and never her actual suffering.

Here we have to peer into an agitated troubled Morton with no ambiguity supporting the suffering. No, we even get a stupid voiceover that underscores it as though you can beat a dead horse and still try to ride it.

But I will not act surprised. It is very common for this kind of construction to be actor-centric, to rely on actor’s faces for emotion, message. There is a market for that I suppose. But it is a naive notion of cinema. One I will pardon Adler because it is her debut after all.

This is supposed to be film, our most visceral art. Part of its driving force is the ability to establish a world. It’s a matter of exploiting its visual nature, through previous films, and through life itself. It’s pretty easy and useful because it creates the framework a story needs in order to breathe.

But there is none of that visual mind here. Nothing seems to exist outside of Morton, and when something does, it’s a distraction and not very interresting. The camera is attached to her. And the acting is not like say Cassavetes where it has its own aesthetic, where you literally see actors reach far beyond themselves. That is a spectacle worth pointing a camera to because we can invest different parts of ourselves in gestures, outbursts, behavioral ambiguities. Morton here gives it to us pretty straight-forward. That’s okay, but why should we be made to care about that only? and is it worth it?

You have to see this, and then “High Tide” to understand the vital differences. I have an interest in woman-centric worlds, and specially woman-centric pain. So far, men seem to purport this pain better (Garcia and Almodovar), with Gillian Armstrong as the exception. Adler fails here and it is dangerous because such films do co-invent our notions of gender . But here, everything is too confined, too simplified, it has no reach.

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Categories: Notes

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