(This was written a year ago, just re-discovered in my computer.)
Reading a magazine article this morning got me to thinking about Scarlett Johansson in “Under the Skin” that we saw last night. The article discussed the fine points of digitizing real human faces for movies, and it made me realize that her blank look in most scenes was likely intended to suggest a digitized face. She had few expressions, which would be likely if she were an avatar, simply because of the logistics of instilling emotion in such a being—that is, in today’s technology. People are working hard at duplicating human faces in digital representations, but it’s a big job. Not impossible, just hard. (Think of reproducing a five-o’clock shadow on a man who is in constant motion.) The article said that a 3-D scan of a face can take teraflops of computing power. So, I think, they tried to make her look like a contemporary digital avatar trying to look human. It’s all about the intended audience (us, today).
Scarlett is rather stone faced anyway—most of her humanness is in her mouth, and the obvious pliability of her skin. She spends a lot of time applying lipstick to those luscious lips. Only once do I remember her smiling, and that was surely Scarlett Johansson. In retrospect, I’d love to see her in that role trying out different expressions in the mirror, instead of just gazing at herself. But it might look too realistic for her character as we come to know her. In twenty years, audiences will be more sophisticated, and insist on more reality in their digital characters.
My favorite scene was when she discovers she has a vagina. There should have been whoops from the audience. My most disappointing scene was when she (unmasked) sits and contemplates her own avatar face in her lap. It should have been digitized—which given our present level of technology would have looked “close to real,” instead of her real face superimposed in post-production. But the scene reminded me of the scene in Hamlet where he contemplates Yorick’s skull. I noticed a lot of such subtle allusions in the film, but it’s hard to remember them in daylight.