Under the Skin is a novel by Michel Faber, first published in 2000. In 2010 the movie version was greenlit, with Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) directing and Scarlett Johannson starring. Glazer had been working on an adaptation of the book for five years before filming started. The protagonist, Isserley, is a female from a species of alien that is apparently four-legged and furry. She shaves, gets a boob job, and stands upright to try and abduct human hitchhikers along the A9 in Scotland.
At no point in the book does ScarJo's character (now renamed "Laura," according to IMDb?) rescue a surfer. (Seen above.)
I read this book last week because, when she found out it was being turned in to a movie, Francene objected a lot. It's one of her favorite books that she's read many times, and not only did she think Scarlett Johannson lacked the acting chops for the role, but also: "Unless it is dirty and gritty and odd it will be awful."
The thing that struck me the most about this book was how not a lot happens until the last third, and then you so rapidly run out of pages with what seems like lots of story left, you realize it's going to end abruptly. And it does. And right up until the last page I had no idea what was going to happen.
I won't spoil the ending, but it seems to leave a lot left unresolved for the reader (not so much for the character.) Those books are often popular because it promotes discussion and thought in to the storytelling, while those sorts of movies are often failures for the same reason. (An exception would be Inception, even though in my opinion that ties things up neatly at the end with a tiny bit of flotsam with a top to cast some intrigue at the conclusion.)
At first I was worried that the premise (aliens posing as humans to capture Earthlings and fatten them for slaughter to send back home,) was some sort of thinly veiled metaphor for why we should all become vegan. But Faber does something interesting by giving each hitchhiker a point of view passage in every chapter. Their running commentary is almost never flattering to their character, with a few exceptions that end up being bad choices for Isserley. (She strives to only pick up hitchers that won't be missed by anyone in particular.) The book is almost entirely about how Isserley feels used and mistreated by men, the elitist class, and her own species in general.
Which means, since she isolates herself from the rest of the characters in the book (all male), the novel is almost entirely her internal monologue. While that's interesting, it makes it hard to translate to film. I had a chat with Francene about all this, here's what happened:
Brenda: I'm glad it wasn't a metaphor for veganism. Also I like how even aliens value dogs over human lives.
Francene: I think I like it so much because it was the opposite of what I thought when I read the cover at the store, and I liked the weird sadness and such. Also, I dont think it is the greatest of all books, but I didnt think it would be well suited to film.
Brenda: I think it would be a terrible film as-is.
Francene: It was just sad to me, the sacrifices she made.
Brenda: That was an interesting section towards the end, when it was pointed out to her that she has it hard, but she made that choice, when others have it hard and have no choice. But the book is like 90% her thoughts and feelings.
Francene: That is what made it interesting. I thought it was a serial killer until she took him home. But, if you look at a movie like the Minus Man, that was almost entirely in his head, and that did work. And I hate Owen Wilson.
I mentioned in the podcast that Isserley's physical appearance is much discussed, specifically the size of the boobs (which to an alien would seem like a feature humans put a lot of importance on) they decided to give her. So of course when you think "Who's young in Hollywood with great tits?", you're going to think ScarJo. But Isserley has also undergone a lot of other plastic surgery to make her look more like a real biped, including having fingers removed and wearing thick glasses (despite not needing them) to hide her bug-eyes.
Brenda: Have you seen any of the pictures from the movie set? Because she's not wearing glasses. And other than the boobs, the glasses are talked about a lot.
Francene: Yeah, that was a big deal because they hid her alienosity. I will have to see it, if only to see what they did.
Brenda: I'm going to have to see it now, too, if only to bitch about how much different it was from the book and earn my hipster cred. Except we all know hipsters can't read.
Francene: They can read their Kindles by the light of a kerosene lamp, duh!
Brenda: It's a shame it looks like they're setting this movie in 1987 for some reason. I would continue to root for the alien steak farm if it were about picking up hipsters.
Francene: Hipsters would yield very little meat. But they are free range and grass fed.
Corrected for accuracy. Even features her character's double-triple-whatever-jointed-ness. The handcuffs are the symbol of her oppression. And then also, boobs.