In looking at Shaun Higgins‘ video homage to Jonathan Glazer, director of Under the Skin, Birth, and Sexy Beast, what is most striking is the presence of the human face. Or rather, the human face made vaguely unhuman. If you repeat a word long enough, as we know from childhood, it will eventually lose its meaning. And if you stare at a human face long enough, its components will eventually stop adding up to the thing we call "face" and will eventually seem much more like a random collection of bones, arranged into an image which is familar to us but which we can’t quite place. Consider, for instance, the face of Scarlett Johansson, the star of the most recent of the three films addressed here. In her other dramatic work, we expect that look from her face, a highly sexualized and yet open stare, somewhat as if, before her gaze rose to meet the camera, her eyes have made a scooping motion, as if she were either taking something in or simply taking her time to look upwards. Here, she’s numb, raw, dead-eyed, in some senses not animalian, but quite literally alien, as if the vantage point from which she views her male victims and the world around her is so far removed as to be incomprehensible to us. Nicole Kidman’s mother in Birth, far from the animated, mischievous taunting woman she played in Moulin Rouge, Eyes Wide Shut, or even Flirting, is so frightened and disoriented by the experiences depicted in the film that to say she is "beside herself" is not far from accurate. And what’s most visible in the amalgamation of gangsters’ faces from Sexy Beast shown here are different degrees of toughness under strain, most memorably displayed in Ben Kingsley’s craggy mug. These films are obviously quite complex, balancing hosts of elements, too many to adequately summarize, but characters’ faces, as this video piece accurately points out, make focal points for the films, entryways into their beautifully orchestrated madness.
Watch: Faces in the Work of UNDER THE SKIN Director Jonathan Glazer: A Video Essay