I haven’t previously posted any year-end lists here on my blog. Back in my younger days, I used to compile them annually, and I took the whole process quite seriously. I’m not sure exactly why that ritual became less important to me as time went on. I think it was partly because as I grew a bit older, I started to realize how much the entire culture is based on the idea of selling things, and year-end lists are just another aspect of that consumer mentality. Yet a handful of movies that I saw this year resonated deeply enough that writing something about them in retrospective summary seemed like a worthwhile task once again.
Under the Skin would fit perfectly as a double-feature with my second favorite movie of the year, Alain Guiraudie’s pensive gay French noir thriller Stranger by the Lake. Set entirely at an idyllic lakeside cruising area for men, with a cast comprised exclusively of men, it’s an explicit (and at times unabashedly sexual) version of what Under the Skin presents only allegorically. No film I’ve seen captures the rhythms and rules of a gay cruising area more realistically, immersing its audience in those codes and expectations. We begin to know who the characters are by which cars are parked in the lakeside lot, as we observe the daily ebb and flow of the traffic. It’s not a movie about community, and it’s also not really about individuals. Relationships, I guess, but a very particular kind. The film’s been likened to Hitchcock often, and the comparison is apt. Typical plot points like murder and sex serve as entryways for an exploration of the darker, or at least less often acknowledged, aspects of desire, loneliness, and human psychology.