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Will Scarlett Johansson’s nude scenes overshadow ‘Under the Skin’?

Will Perkins
TIFF
September 10, 2013

Scarlett Johansson is no stranger to turning heads, but the 28-year-old actress is really giving audiences an eyeful with two very different and very revealing roles at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

Johansson has two films at TIFF 2013 (three if you count Spike Jonze’s “Her,” which was previewed at the fest earlier this week). There's Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut “Don Jon,” and then there's Jonathan Glazer’s highly anticipated third film “Under the Skin.” In the former, the actress plays a buxom, wise-cracking Jersey girl who falls for a porn addict (played by JGL), while her role in the latter is a little more alien — she plays a man-eating extraterrestrial on the hunt for prey in Scotland.

“Under the Skin” is a fantastic and spine-tingling film from a master filmmaker (Glazer previously directed the acclaimed “Sexy Beast” and “Birth”) featuring a truly hypnotic performance by Johansson. But all that audiences and critics seem to be able to talk about in the wake of its Toronto festival screening are the actress’s many nude scenes in the movie.

Johansson’s alien character spends the majority of the film luring lonely men back to her suburban lair in order to devour them. She performs a strange ritual that every time she brings home a new victim (not unlike Earthly mating rituals… minus the whole "eating the other person" part) that culminates in both parties stripping naked and the poor sod being absorbed into a viscous black liquid. It’s as disturbing as it is strangely beautiful.

Johansson is frequently in some state of undress in “Under the Skin” and even goes full frontal a few times. From a marketing perspective, there’s no doubt that Johansson’s nudity is a selling point (you are reading this article, after all). She’s a big star who has never appeared nude on film, and the movie will likely attract many who would otherwise never go see it for exactly that reason - a fact that distributor A24 (the company that just bought “Under the Skin” for over $1 million at TIFF) is likely well aware of.

Using nudity as a marketing tactic was obviously not what the director or Johansson had in mind, though. The actress gives one of the best (not to mention bravest) performances of her career here. She’s cold and creepy, but also innocent and sympathetic at the same time. Johansson is so good in the movie that some critics are already picking her as a potential Best Actress Oscar nominee. It would be a shame if “Under the Skin” just became known as “that naked ScarJo movie.”

Johansson’s film isn’t the only movie at TIFF gaining notoriety for its depiction of sex and nudity. Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Colour” is appearing at the fest this year and has become synonymous with a lengthy and very graphic lesbian sex scene featuring stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Despite being a great coming-of-age film, "Blue" continues to generate buzz at Toronto for the sex, not for the story. It’s another case of a film being boiled down to its barest elements by audiences and critics.

The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 5 to 15.

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