With Lucy now in cinemas, Scarlett Johansson is proving to be one of Hollywood’s most peculiar and exciting stars.
Fitted in a black wig, with puffy ruby lips and an almost lethal gaze, Laura casually prowls the dismal streets of Glasgow in a white van, abducting the many punters that fall at her heels. Director Jonathan Glazer’s recent chillingly gothic sci-fi Under the Skin serves up an almost unrecognisable Scarlett Johansson, in her most challenging role yet: the seductive alien mistress, Laura. Glazer’s film peeled back the cosmetic layers of one of Hollywood’s favourite starlets to reveal an actress with a sense of curiosity and confidence.
Johansson bounds in-between genre films, finding success in the mainstream spotlight and more niche, indie works
An exemplar of success, Johansson is important to the industry not just for her feminist triumphs as an empowered heroine of the times, but also in highlighting the versatility of acting on the global cinema stage. Hollywood has its many bankable stars and talented performers; Matthew McConaughey’s McConaissance has courted plenty of press for the 44-year-old star of late. Capped with a white Stetson and sporting bulky aviator sunglasses, McConaughey secured an Oscar for his portrayal of AIDs patient-cum-maverick Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. Even Ryan Reynolds has perked up a few critical brows in hopes for what Telegraph critic Robbie Collins calls a “Rey-boot”, in foresight of the upcoming thriller The Captive.
But, in all the fervour of these male successes, it seems only fitting to recognise Scarlett Johansson’s influence and prominence as she continues to carve herself a space in contemporary cinema. With an impressive body of work, the actress bounds in-between genre films, as well as finding success in the mainstream spotlight and more niche, indie works to establish her versatility and calibre of acting.
Known for her provocativeness, Johansson’s involvement in the fashion industry sells her sexual allure and desirability. She may be a modern sex icon and a pouty pin-up, but she uses her sexuality to enhance her performances and transcend the expectations of the modern heroine.
Johansson uses her sexuality to enhance her performances and transcend the expectations of the modern heroine
Always one to offer more to a role than just her beauty, Johansson garnered much attention from critics with her involvement in Sofia Coppola’s 2004 offbeat comedy/drama, Lost in Translation. The role of the lonesome Charlotte has come to epitomise Johansson’s peculiar career path, offering something rich that often navigates the winding, yellow-brick roads of a more challenging and certainly entertaining form of cinema. Johansson’s recent ventures into science fiction, however, have offered a departure from her highly sexualised image. And this goes beyond her current starring role in Luc Besson’s sci-fi actioner Lucy.
In the techno-glitzy rom-com Her, Johansson lent her soft vocal chords to the Operating System that becomes known as Samantha. Despite not physically being in the film, Johansson manages to vocalise Samantha’s emotional turmoil and many experiences. And where Her uses only Johansson’s voice to open a dialogue with the genre, Under the Skin utilises Johansson’s body. Glazer’s sci-fi seemed to make Laura exotic via her gender; she certainly appears to be otherworldly and dangerous. Whilst Laura is coldly indifferent throughout, festering underneath her tousled black wig is a seemingly curious, and at times vulnerable, woman.
Neither of the characters, however, are women; instead Samantha/Laura challenge what it means to be female. Johansson’s involvement in a recent group of sci-fi movies, which has transformed her into a poster child for brainy and brawny contemporary science fiction, offers an usual, empowered heroine type. She continues to frontline genre films that surpass the typical thresholds, venturing into new, refreshing and entertaining territories.
Johansson’s involvement in a recent group of sci-fi movies has transformed her into a poster child for brainy, brawny contemporary science fiction
Gowned in a skin-tight suit, Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is one of the most significant figures of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nothing if not sci-fi by another name. As a pivotal, if not staple, part of Marvel’s creed of heroes, Johansson is the most successful female superhero in contemporary cinema. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a platform for the character’s prominence amidst the rebirth of the superhero genre, and the role challenges gender politics – she is equal to her male counterpart, if not just as confident and lethal; kicking ass is one of her many fortes. Unlike Halle Berry’s dominatrix with a feline fetish Patience Phillips/Catwoman, Romanoff is respected as a serious character, and is cherished by fans as one of Joss Whedon’s original Avengers.
Scarlett Johansson’s apparent provocative charm, or what Domenico Dolce referred to as “womanly nuances” when describing the actress for The One: Street of Dreams, is perhaps less to do with her sexuality than it is about what she brings to the many roles of her exciting film choices. Not always a siren of the cinema, but certainly one to influence it, Johansson is a case study on the increasing versatility of performance in contemporary film.
Featured image: Universal
Inset images: StudioCanal; Warner Bros