Also screening one last time in Vancouver (also at the Rio, on the 12th), this horrifyingly gorgeous film. An excerpt of my review:
Watching Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, I kept thinking of Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), slowly mutating into a humanoid fly, marking the loss of his humanity with the chilling observation: “I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake.” The first half of Under the Skin, Glazer’s third film in an un-prolific but distinctive career, follows Laura (Scarlett Johansson), an alien disguised as a human woman as she wanders Scotland in a van, picking up men to lure to an apartment and, as hinted by an unforgettable sequence from the point-of-view of one of her victims, divest of their skins (for other aliens to wear?). Looking at Earth and its humans through Laura, the film feels like the dream of an alien who dreamed she was human. The second half of the film, which sees Laura suddenly abandoning her mission, feels like the dream is over. The human (woman) is awake–only to find, with something akin to fear, that humans make aliens of their own kind. The whole thing feels like a gorgeous nightmare—the kind where dysphoria is made all the stronger by moments of overwhelming beauty. We don’t know where Laura or her kind is from, what they want, why they’re harvesting human men. Which makes Laura’s eventually developing fear–the only plainly decipherable emotion she expresses in the film–at the stirrings of human experience all the more disturbing, and discordantly poignant.
Laura’s discovery isn’t a sentimental or emotional one. It’s entirely sensory and experiential, like the film. There’s no exposition here, no speeches or conversations detailing what she’s feeling. Laura wakes to the experience of being a human woman, not understanding it. Indeed, if she discovers anything it’s that human existence is no different than that of the ant she observes crawling over a human body early in the film–scrabbling, by instinct, to fulfil the demands of its insignificant existence in a vast universe. But we see Laura as insectile too, because of how unknowable and predatory she is (we glimpse another of her kind as well, a male biker who travels around clearing evidence of Laura’s kidnappings), despite her species’ clear level of technological advancement over ours.
All of which makes Under the Skin act as a twisted two-way mirror, on either side of which human and alien look at each other, discovering that they’re different insects trapped in the same unfathomable hive. We’re all just meat animated by the spark of the cosmos, pretending to know what’s going on. The anti-human certainty of Laura’s purpose when we first see her (methodically imitating and hunting humans, though the rest of her motives remain mysterious) deteriorates into existential uncertainty as she bears witness to a universe that’s amoral—though not evil in the way the fleshed cruelty of the sentient can be.
Still time to watch this marvellous film, if you’re in Vancouver. It screens one last time at the Rio on the 15th. Go see it! Here’s an excerpt from my review:
Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive envisions present-day Earth as an apocalypse, casting human beings as the “zombies” who have overrun the planet, and two star-crossed vampiric immortals as the “humans,” or rather our heroes, observers stranded at the end of the world. Except that their heroism consists entirely of lounging amidst the rich cultural sediment of centuries of human civilization while discussing life, the universe and everything. Pointedly named Adam (Tom Hiddleston, showing his great potential beyond being the MCU’s Loki) and Eve (Tilda Swinton, effortlessly otherworldly), Jarmusch’s vampires represent humanity at its own artistic remove; snobbish, endearing, beautiful, insatiable, simultaneously living and dying, endlessly judging itself while languishing in its own detritus of genius and self-absorption. It’s a conceit irresistibly executed by Jarmusch, resulting in an instant classic.
The fact that this is Jarmusch’s ‘vampire movie’ may call to mind his previous genre reworkings like bleakly beautiful Western Dead Man (1995) and samurai/crime film remix Ghost Dog (1999), but Only Lovers Left Alive hews closer to his more plot-less mid-period masterpieces Mystery Train(1989) and Night on Earth (1991). It shares with the latter two films a conversational, meditative quality–a distinctly nocturnal poetry of observance. If Mystery Train’s Japanese tourists lost in Memphis evoke, in Jarmusch’s words, pilgrims visiting the remnants left by “the decline of the American empire,” the vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive are living in the decline of an entire age of human empires (that is to say, the twenty-first century). This time Detroit and Tangier, separate homes to Adam and Eve respectively, become the backdrop for humanity’s cyclical end-times.
Ducks is about part of my time working at a mining site in Fort McMurray, the events are from 2008. It is a complicated place, it is not the same for all, and these are only my own experiences there. It is a sketch because I want to test how I would tell these stories, and how I feel about sharing them. A larger work gets talked about from time to time. It is not a place I could describe in one or two stories. Ducks is about a lot of things, and among these, it is about environmental destruction in an environment that includes humans. Thank you for taking the time to read it.
For newcomers, an earlier description of the sketchcomic, “about [her] time in the oilsands,” by Beaton: “Life there is different for lots of people, again, these are just my experiences alone. This comic story happens to pull together a few incidents that are uncommonly sad in my mind compared to everyday life, but have stuck with me a long time. Again, names and things are changed.”
Read The Devil in America, a new original fantasy novelette on Tor.com by Kai Ashante Wilson.
I can’t recommend enough that readers (genre, literary, both) make some time for this new novelette from Clarion graduate and fellow Octavia Butler scholar Kai Ashante Wilson. Fiery, beautiful, and heartbreaking. An angry story, steeped in the blood of history, “haunted by the ghosts of the murdered,” as Wilson puts it. It’s quite brilliant.
Here’s hoping for more fiction from Wilson soon, and that more and more people read his work (which I’ve had the privilege of coming across before, on Tor.com and in the ToC for Nisi Shawl’s Bloochildren anthology).
It’s been less than two years since the delightful “Moonrise Kingdom” opened the Cannes Film Festival, and Anderson already has his next feature, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, in the can. As if that wasn’t enough, somewhere in there he found a bit of downtime to make a glorified ad for Prada, which is so thoroughly formed and detailed that it’s easy to forget its explicit commercial purpose.
A genuine short film worthy of being discussed in the same terms as his “Hotel Chevalier”, “Castello Cavalcanti” stars Anderson mainstay Jason Schwartzman as a racecar driver who crashes directly into his Italian heritage. Sort of like “Rush” meets “Rushmore”, this is a small delight for Wes Anderson fans everywhere.