under-the-skin_Scarlett JohanssonBadass Femmes is a bi-weekly column written by So from So’s Reel Thoughts about all the Badass Females in pop culture that shaped her life.

2014 was a great year for women in film, from female directed films like The Babadook and The Midnight Swim, to female-centric stories such as Mommy, Two Days, One Night and more. You could say that this was the year of the badass femme; but nobody stood out more than the unearthly woman in Jonathan Glazer’s haunting Under the Skin. Named only as The Female, Scarlett Johansson went above and beyond as an out-of-this-world alien whose dead-pan stare and endearing smile was able to lure men to their impending doom. Although the true gender (if that even applies) of the alien is arguable, the character resonates as the year’s best dissection of what it is to be a woman first and foremost, and a human being on an even deeper level.

First and foremost, the unnamed creature’s strategy to parade around Earth as a woman presents a layered amount of complexity to the character, breaking down taboo to explore our societal conditioning of gender. As an alien predator at large in Scotland, her purpose is to lure men with charming good looks. Dressed in a fur jacket and sporting luscious red lips, she gazes, wanders, and prowls on men who don’t even think twice about getting in a white van with a stranger, especially if it’s a woman. Presented through a cinema verite style, the realism on display is brutal, offering up a scenario only possible because of predator’s perceived gender. In essence, the creature’s deception never would’ve never worked if the film relied on a man trying to pick up women walking on the side of the road – women have been socially conditioned to fear men. For the first time, we see that idea flipped, with a woman who is an imminent threat to men. Why she only prowls on a specific gender, we may never know, but the idea subverts how our perception of women plays into modern society.

After using a host of men’s lust against them, The Female is stumped to come across a disfigured man who has learned to live without judging people on their appearance. It’s through him she finally feels a genuine connection, deciding to explore that bond through kindness. Naturally that experimentation leads back to sexual intimacy and it’s then when she starts to learn the detrimental aspects of being a woman in a man’s world. This makes The Female’s discovery of humanity all the more haunting, as her journey allows her to see beauty before ultimately succumbing to mankind’s innate evil.

The Female will forever be a fascinating character for years to come. As The Female, Scarlett Johansson evokes a surprising tenderness that takes her character from an emotionally lost creature to a child in need of connection. Her encounter with the dark side of humanity is utterly heartbreaking to witness, and resonates with me because it evokes a time when I was trying to navigate my own identity and sexuality amidst a blistering storm of cat-calls, sexual harassments and the inevitable backlash of “friend-zoning”. Characters like this are important because they’re able to shed light on deeply imbedded societal problems and hopefully, make us all the better for it.


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