Jonathan Glazer Turns Science Fiction Filmmaking On Its Head

Email a Friend
From and

As a director of music videos and commercials, Jonathan Glazer has always been stylish, ambitious, and occasionally unsettling. As a director of films, Glazer has maintained his style and ambition while doubling down on unsettling. His latest feature, Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson, is a culmination of his efforts — a sci-fi flick that’s both cinematic and low-fi, and breaks all the genre’s rules.

Glazer was initially inspired by Michel Faber’s eponymous novel, about an alien seductress who harvests human flesh. “We see the horror of things, the beauty, the savagery, kindness, and she begins to have those impulses herself,” he tells Kurt Andersen. Glazer spent years adapting Under the Skin and admits his film is only “spiritually” connected to its source material. The director and his collaborators wanted to take the story into uncharted territory: “Let’s make a film that’s absolutely stands apart from every other film by virtue of the fact that it needs to be through a lens that is not human ... Things we take for granted, things we do every day, to look at that through her eyes is to re-see it in a way.”

In order to fulfill his mission, Glazer dispensed with many of the conventions of mainstream cinema. Under the Skin has little dialogue, no backstory, and is constructed around scenes filmed with a candid camera. Johannson’s alien picks male victims up in a creepy white van, and many of them were actual passers-by on the streets of Scotland, who didn’t recognize Johannson. “It was about finding a method of shooting the film which was equivalent to the story,” Glazer explains. “It has a quality to it which is very powerful that you couldn’t really replicate.”

Though Glazer worked on the film for nearly a decade, he isn’t discouraged by polarized reactions to it. “It feels right because it’s about what you bring to it,” he says. “Jean Renoir, the French director, said ‘If it causes an argument between a husband and a wife, it’s done its job.’” Kurt will attest from personal experience that Glazer’s movie has done its job.


Jonathan Glazer's 3 for 360

Music Playlist

  1. I've Got You Under My Skin

    Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
    Album: I've Got You Under My Skin
    Label: Sound and Vision