Thursday, July 24, 2014

Skin and what's under...

that layer of your body is something to consider. Skin serves simultaneously as a barrier to the world outside you, as a container for the body that is you and as a more or less permeable membrane that takes in elements from this world in which you live. Interestingly, were you able to wear or be encased in the skin of another...then you would be, appearance wise at least, them.

This week a movie was released on DVD titled "Under The Skin". I had read a blurb about the movie and wanted to see it. I presumed it would be a bit off-beat but was stunned by some of the powerful scenes presented. I laughed out loud at a fairly intense sex scene that occurred toward the end of it. The movie is a dark and quirky work. It relies heavily on imagery and sound for expression...that sort of stuff often irritates me but...if you watch on dvd you can fast forward through any of it that you want.

I'll have to see it a few more times to decide how much I like it. But, having said all that, it is absolutely a must see for anyone who is a vegan. is a terrific way to introduce a non-vegan to some ways of seeing human behavior that are absolutely not supported by the dominant cultural narratives that shape the thinking/perceiving of so many. I think, maybe, it could be an excellent teaching tool to bring someone to view human behavior from a different (vegan) perspective. My wife complained that it was too "obscure" thinking is that it would never ever have attained commercial release if it wasn't "obscure".

I'm rather astounded that the vegan community has not been all over this movie. It is a sort of a gussied up and de-violenced version of Meet Your Meat except guess what...the meat you're meeting is you. The movie is scarey and spooky and (for me) laugh out loud funny at times. It shows humans at some of their best and some of their worst.

It is a "weird" movie. Don't think for a moment it isn' least that's what my wife told me. She didn't like it at all. It is many ways...the scene at the beach with the human baby was about as scary as any I've ever seen. I wrote on facebook:

I would urge you to watch it just for the scene that occurs on a rocky beach involving a human baby/very small child. Watch that scene and then think about how many times daily something akin to the behavior of the Scarlett Johansson character is inflicted on our sister/brother Earthlings by human animals. Consider what you think of the Scarlett Johansson character in that scene and, if you're not vegan, realize that you pay people to do things exactly like in and day out whenever you eat anything from or use anything from an animal. What we do, or cause to be done, to others...that is in truth what we are asking to be done to ourselves. Watch this movie and see...
I don't want to write more because...well...because. I would really like to hear your impressions of the movie. I want to let it percolate and settle with me then see it again after a while. I suppose why we haven't heard much about it is that there are a number of scenes in the movie that are sexually charged involving human near nudity and nudity and I'm guessing (from some of the reviews I've read) that naked and near naked people throw culturally indoctrinated human animals off their game so much that that's what they focus on. Aside from the (to me) funny as hell penetration attempt scene I didn't get much caught up in all that...but I think many viewers did and as a result maybe missed the full import of the story.

I'm just amazed that there's been such an absence of talk about this movie. Maybe you have to be a vegan to be able to wrap your mind around what you're seeing...certainly my wife was apparently oblivious to the incredible re-creation of human behavior toward our sister/brother Earthlings that was so well presented in the beach scene. It may be too big a leap for many/most to take in. This reviewer was sort of all over the place about the movie...but we agree....this is a powerful and very very important movie.

If you can watch the movie and not "get it" then it may be because you aren't living vegan. The more I think about this movie, the more impressed and excited I get about it.


Bea Elliott said...

On your trusted recommendation I went to Netflix to see my husband already put it in our que - I placed it #1 and am looking forward to viewing it. So many "controversial" subjects and ideas are given free reign when presented in non-fiction and sci-fi. I hope other nonvegans are able to make the connection that appears obvious in this story.

Off hand (and speaking of stories about eating humans), I'm wondering if you've ever read Animals: A Novel Paperback by Don LePan? Though it's not as subtle as Under the Skin seems to be, I still think it would be great as a (vegan-teaching-moment) film.

I appreciate your review of the film... Most often my husband gets movies that I don't care to watch, but this one will be an exception. I'll let you know my take on it too! Thanks!

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea. I've not had much luck getting any feedback from FB on this movie. One fellow who had seen it thought it was not very good at all (too subtle). From my perspective...any serious movie treatment of the absurd horror of human animals eating other animals is an event worthy of noting and cheering. Human harmers are usually presented as "monsters" who are scary looking and are randomly destructive and just generally evil (not at all like we kind, reasonable, peaceful...except when threatened...human animals). This movie doesn't do that and indeed it requires a moment of thinking to shift into the perspective of human behavior but that wasn't difficult at all to do. I dunno.

I've found that books and movies and such are much like many of the flavors we experience with our tongues. What astonishes and entices one may repel and repulse or leave unimpressed another. This probably isn't a "great" movie but inso far as a vegan message conveying vehicle via a commercial movie (not-documentary), especially one that doesn't sort of mock vegans (I love the movie Year of the Dog but it did pander to popular culture by painting veganism as "silly" in many ways)...this movie is probably the best I've seen. Hell...there aren't many to choose from.

I think I tried to read Animals not too long after it came out and couldn't get through it. I probably need to go try again. I just finished the book that Under the Skin was based on and wasn't too much liking of the writing but it was much more clear and concise about the awfulness of humans eating animals or other beings eating humans...sort of. Reviewers of the book raved about the writing (it didn't do much for me) and many compared it to "Animal Farm". I was sort of left flat by the book even though there was one place where a clear vegan statement was made. What was interesting to me was that the author is not vegan or even vegetarian although one review said he had a "strong" interest in "animal welfare". I'm always sort of boggled by such a thing...I can't compute "strong" with not refraining from harming others.

The one book I've found that I got a hoot out of reading that has a clearly vegan character with some vegan arguments advanced was David Liss's "The Ethical Assassin"...that book cracked me up in places. But...that's me. (and yes, Mr. Liss is a vegan).

I really can't wait to hear your impression of the movie.

Have Gone Vegan said...

You've got me intrigued! Not really a big fan of Scarlett, but I'll check this one out for sure.

A quick look at the Rotten Tomatoes website indicates that the critics liked it better than the general audience (86 vs 59%), and that it takes a bit of work to absorb and understand the message, but that isn't a bad thing in my opinion. :)

Not related, but I came across this quote over at Our Hen House the other day which made me think of you: If a rabbit defined intelligence the way man does, then the most intelligent animal would be a rabbit, followed by the animal most willing to obey the commands of a rabbit. --Robert Brault

Don LePan said...

A quick note just to say that I have come round to the view that the message Animals: A Novel puts forward is in fact powerfully in support of going vegan--not simply (as is argued in the afterword) against eating the products of factory farming. I think my subconscious was ahead of my conscious mind as I was writing the book; I'm now vegan.

I'm planning a re-issue at some point with few or no footnotes--and a different afterword!

All the best to you,

Don LePan

Bea Elliott said...

Hello again - As I write, I'm still digesting Under the Skin. It wasn't at all what I expected out of a menacing-other-species that consumes humans. Without the gory mechanics of seeing flesh being devoured, the scene of being sucked out of your skin was creepy enough. On a superficial level, can't nonvegans see how repulsive this is?

Towards the end after the nameless main character extends empathy to one potential victim and makes a physical/emotional connection to another, I found myself longing for the substance of Starman and his deer-saving ways. Under the Skin was a bit obscure for me too. :/

The most profound of all the messaging I could have gotten from this film was your description of the abandoned baby. It was most frightening... And we humans cause such terror without a tear of remorse - Just like you eloquently said! As with Don LePan's Animals, placing children/infants in these positions where they're as vulnerable as nonhumans is most effective in comparing brute-power over others. Bless the Beasts and the Children...

I'll certainly check out David Liss's "The Ethical Assassin". I'm due for a good read having just finished Elizabeth Costello. I miss her already. :( Do try Animals again... I struggled through the first 30 or so pages but then the plot hooked me and I couldn't put the book down.

Next movie on my watch list is Noah. I know the film begins with the Garden of Eden scene when the apple becomes a beating heart. My secular/vegan views draw only one conclusion as to what was/is the "forbidden fruit". As far as I can tell, there's more science fiction in the "permission" to eat others than there was in Under the Skin! Long live the arts so it may free our minds! :)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. I looking forward to hearing your reaction to the movie.

I've seen that quote (or something like it) before and think it is one of the more astute and insightful observations I've ever seen about the incredible blind arrogance exhibited by we human animals. Thanks for thinking of me. :-)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Don. Our perceptions and comprehensions will change over time if we're open to such. I look forward to your new afterword! (congrats on living vegan)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting (again) Bea. Well shoot, I'm sorry you didn't "enjoy" (that's probably the wrong word) the movie. I've thought more about what pulled me toward the movie and realized maybe part of it has to do with my working experience.

I used to give projective 'tests' (Rorschach, Thematic Apperception Test, Sentence completion, etc). These are attempts to gain access to the psychodynamics of someone by presenting them with a somewhat ambiguous stimulus and then looking at their responses for patterns that repeat. While it might sound sort of "voodooish", I've seen some remarkable insights gained using these approaches (if the practitioner is skilled and experienced).

The movie was, to me, much like an ambiguous stimulus wherein folks could lay their own meaning on what they were seeing because the details of the narrative were kept rather vague and unclear. I continue to feel like it is an important movie...but...I have yet to watch it a 2nd'll see.

I will absolutely revisit the book Animals (obviously now I must since the author was kind enough to comment here) and pour more effort into reading it.

You mentioned the Starman scene (which I found to be staggeringly exquisite) and it occurred to me that part of the 'darkness' associated with Under the Skin (versus Starman) has to do with the fact that the aliens in Under the Skin behave much more like humans (our current dominant cultures anyway) than did the Alien in Starman. We can only hope to behave like the Starman...instead we are much closer to the aliens (and the rapist human) depicted in Under the Skin...sadly. We have brief flashes of compassion that usually end up poorly. Starman was a much more uplifting, unambiguous and enjoyable movie...yet...depressingly...I see Under the Skin as being much closer to our current reality than was Starman. Jeez...probably if they had tried to show clearly (instead of vaguely and ambiguously) our current reality not only would the movie have not been released (except maybe as a fringe documentary) but everyone associated with it would have been seriously penalized. :-)

Have Gone Vegan said...

Oh my goodness! Okay, so I finally watched the movie, and unfortunately can't say I share your enthusiasm. In fact, I think my reaction was the opposite of yours -- the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I got.

Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it. The spitting-out-of-cake scene made me laugh, Scarlett's acting was surprisingly impressive, the music was compelling, and many of the visuals were eerily beautiful. The nudity I actually found quite nonsexual, which was oddly refreshing, as too many movies tend to oversexualize.

What irked me though was the complete lack of exposition. Unless you had already read the book, or the link you provided (which does make me want to read it!), or had some prior knowledge of the story, it would be really hard to know what was going on. And while most movies commit the horrendous sin of explaining too much, a little bit is surely in order?

For that reason alone I can't see this working as a vegan tool mainly because animal use is so invisible already that an obscure film like this one isn't going to shed enough light. You have to be able to at least see some of the dots before you can connect them, no? :)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. Well shoot, looks like I'm going to be alone in thinking this movie is a good one. You did note that her acting was way above average as one of the good points of the film. I still haven't watched the movie a 2nd time, so that keeps me a little tentative in my support of the quality but I still think it is a powerful and worthy bit of art supportive of the animal rights message.

Your criticism of the lack of exposition is well taken, at the same time I think that lack of exposition is, perhaps, one of the strengths of the movie. For two reasons, one I wonder whether the movie would have even been made if the message was more explicit and two...the obscurity of the message decreases its chance of activating defense mechanisms. I think art communicates with us via non-verbal and even non rational modalities. Maybe my affection for the film comes because, in many ways, I look at it more like a painting than a clear cut and well defined narrative.

Tell ya what, I'll stop here and when I repeat viewing of the film I'll continue this comment.

Your criticisms are well taken however, right now anyway, I see the lack of clarity you dislike as one of the powerful aspects of the film. (I usually don't appreciate obscurity, but here I do....which sort of surprises me). Let me watch it again and I'll revisit this.