I'll admit, Scarlett Johansson is not my favorite actress. For me, she usually shines with a brightness and luminosity reminiscent of heavily scuffed linoleum on the floor of a decades-closed mental institution. So, imagine my shock when I found her starring in two of the more original science fiction movies to grace theaters over the last year...Under the Skin and Lucy.
While not masterpieces, both films are thought -provoking, imaginative, interesting and, strangely, involve black ooze. They reside at two ends of a spectrum. One end has an alien seeking out and discovering its inner humanity and evolving in the process while the other end has a human ultimately evolving into a creature only recognizable as alien to the world, if not the universe, it inhabits. Ideas of identity and what makes one human play through both movies in vastly different ways.
In Under the Skin, we follow the alien as it immerses itself in our world and habituates itself to our human (sometimes horribly too human) ways. The movie is definitely not for everyone. It's a slow build with nary an explosion or raygun to be found. It delves, appropriately enough, under the skin of humanity to show us our inner alien - that hidden part, the dark side, the ultimate id. And, in the end, when the skin is pulled away, we finally see the reality of our existence in the countenance of an exposed and vulnerable alien, the shell of what once was and what now can never become.
In Lucy, we envision the evolution of nothing less than the human mind. We enter one vision of what might be possible if humans accessed 100% of the power of the human brain. With a combination of science and philosophy (and a lot of gun-filled violence), we travel into realms seemingly beyond imagination but, then, is anything actually beyond imagination...beyond the reach of all human possibility? Here we reach for the ends of the universe and into the depths of time to see what humanity might become with Lucy, both modern and australopithecine, as our cyphers.
Both films have their mis-steps. Under the Skin will be the more difficult for many people to enjoy and many will find our projected future evolution in Lucy unbelievable but, for me at least, these films are more than the sum of their parts. Their gifts lie less in the concrete story shown on screen and more in the thoughts they provoke and the fact that those thoughts will be completely and utterly unique to each individual viewer.