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Book Shortage

Chronicling my 2015 reads on this swanky new website.

My rant on the film adaptation of Michel Faber's Under The Skin

Under the Skin - Michel Faber

"In the end, though, vodsels couldn't do any of the things that really defined a human being. They couldn't siuwil, the couldn't mesnishtil, they had no concept of slan."


I am one of those people who loves to watch the film adaptations of books, even for books I don't like BUT I have a real bone to pick with this one.


First off, this is one of the best books in my collection. I bought it second hand I think, so it's an older edition and the cover features a long winding road in the black of night. The cover alone prepares you for a strange, unsettling journey you will likely never recover from.


It tells the story of Isserley, an alien from another world who is surgically enhanced to look like a human being. She is tasked with the job of luring unsuspecting hitchhikers (called vodsels in her native tongue) into her car and taking them into a factory where they are mutilated, their meat transported back to her planet as a delicacy. Isserley is a complex character with a past and internal conflicts which are slowly revealed as the novel progresses - she's the type of heroine you can fall in love with.


In the film, she is condensed into this sexy alien babe with no feelings, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator.


I am so so so friggen angry about the film, it's quite honestly the worst film adaptation I've ever seen in my life. Upsettingly though unsurprisingly it got great reviews. That's because as a stand alone film, and from an artistic point of view (I'm guessing this film was made for artistic reasons and not entertainment reasons) it looks like it's meant to be good. It subtly conveys its message through shapes, very little dialogue and painfully long scenes that make you wonder whether you accidentally hit the pause button. Reviewers pride themselves over the fact that they had the patience to sit through it, eyes bulging with astute observance because they knew what was going on the whole time (I didn't by the way, the movie confused the hell out of me) and pat themselves on the back for putting the pieces together instead of having the story told to them through a character voice over, as is the case with many Hollywood films.


The problem with this film is that it had so much to work with, with the story being loosely based on the novel. Instead, the filmmakers chose to focus on a theme which has been done so many times before. Alien is sent on earth to kill. Experiences human emotion. Develops compassion. I won't say more because I don't want to ruin the film for you (even though the film ruins itself). But trust me, if you've seen any Sci Fi at all I can guarantee that the Under the Skin movie will feel like deja vu.


The book on the other hand explores a range of themes, including sexuality, humanity, compassion, exploitation and nature. Faber artfully weaves these themes through Isserley's interaction with the vodsels. There is no question that Isserley is human, but her lack of compassion towards vodsels is the real lesson for her. She takes pride in her work, she understands her limitations. She spends a lot of time withdrawing and living within herself, considering the past and what brought her here. She is so taken by the beauty and ease of life on earth, but she doesn't see herself as part of it.


It is confronting to read something which forces you to question what humanity really means, when humans can be so cruel towards other creatures. The book is not about how "emotions are so human and cool!", it's about how arbitrary the label of humanity can be. It doesn't say, hey don't eat meat, it's wrong, it's making you question certain things we take for granted on earth. And I am a big believer in reading for enjoyment, so just because a book carries heavy themes, it doesn't mean it has to weigh heavy on the eyelids. This book captivated me from start to finish, it was beautifully written and I loved the story.


Maybe I'm being unfair, maybe it was a tough book to adapt into film, but to be honest even as a stand alone piece of work it just wasn't good enough. It didn't do any of what it was supposed to do, it wasn't thought-provoking or entertaining. It grated on my patience, it was very self-congratulatory and ... disappointing to say the least. Another empty load of tripe that had the potential to be so much better and didn't do justice to the amazing book it was based on.