2015 Reading Challenge: Book/film compare and contrast: Under The Skin

A little something different today, a compare and contrast of the film adaption of the book and the book itself. I know these are normally fairly redundant but in this case I felt there was a precedent, in that the choices made for the film are entirely bewildering given the richness and multilayered complexity of the book. The film in this instance is more than a poor quality reduction, it’s a mutilation as complete as the character Isserley experiences in the novel.

The film is a one note ‘alien comes to earth to hunt men for her planet’s food supply, does a little self discovery, decides to escape her lot and is punished with near-rape and murder’. It objectifies its star, Scarlett Johanssen, and its volunteer male actors (most of whom were pulled off the street unawares), and does not do very much with the huge scale of the idea it deals with. The end result is one we’ve seen a million times before and is by no means necessary. The destruction of a woman just as she discovers her sexuality and autonomy is a tired trope and needs to be retired.

On the other hand, the book is a difficult, unflinching and complex look at sentience, personhood, autonomy, the mechanics of compassion, society, sexuality, consumption and destruction. It gives no easy answers or pat solutions, it offers only the difficult and painful journey of an alien named Isserley who, given the choice between two hells, takes the one with perhaps a tiny glimpse of heaven and pays dearly for it. When reading this book it is almost impossible to comprehend how Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell managed to flay it down to the movie it became. I am frankly stunned by the choices they made. I would not expect them to take this book as is and transplant it unchanged, but to leave out so much of what made it powerful…wow, what a mistake.

I would not recommend the movie. If you’re OK with pretty tough and unflinching books then I would heartily recommend the book.

You can buy the book in the UK here

And in the US here

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