By Eric Kohn | Indiewire April 11, 2014 at 2:55PM
Every week, Indiewire chief film critic Eric Kohn singles out a movie available for free streaming from our parent company SnagFilms' library and tells you why you should watch it now.
No matter what form they take, aliens provide a reliable metaphor for outsiders. In “Under the Skin,” Scarlett Johansson inhabits a cryptic extraterrestrial perspective on sexuality and identity that yields more questions than answers, which is exactly why it holds such dramatic appeal: By seeing the world from an alien perspective, the strange nature of social constructs become clearer than ever. While Jonathan Glazer’s sensuous tale is certainly a unique vision, “Under the Skin” has company in the realm of movies that use extraterrestrials to a symbolic end.
John Sayles’ 1984 drama "The Brother From Another Planet" features Joe Morton—most recently known for playing Olivia Pope’s dad on "Scandal"—as an alien who crash-lands in Harlem. Even though he can’t speak and has three toes on each of his feet, he pretty much blends right into his surroundings, mainly because he’s black. Sayles’ wry narrative is a clever assault racial identity during a time of tremendous upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil Rights era. Like "Under the Skin," however, the movie’s subtext is never overstated. Both immigrant and minority, "The Brother" effectively represents the ultimate outsider in contemporary America. "It was really, 'How alienated can you get?'" Sayles said in an interview at the time of the film's release. "People just figure he's another weird guy wandering the streets."
It’s a credit to Sayles’ screenplay that such insight never distracts from the straightforward plot, which climaxes when a pair of alien headhunters (played by Sayles and David Strathairn) show up to track The Brother down. But even here, Sayles manages to pull off a tricky narrative gamble, by using a superfluous genre setup for greater ends. "The Brother From Another Planet" positions the struggle of the oppressed in universally understandable terms that have deeply sympathetic roots. The surprise of "The Brother From Another Planet" is that even this lonely alien isn’t truly alone in his plight.
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