I started Genesis by myself on an art course when I was 17. It was my first foray into film and special effects. From concept to completion, I saw the film through every stage of production. It has won at 2 film festivals including Philadelphia Youth Film Festival, Calcutta International Cult Film Festival and been selected at five including Five Continents International Film Festival, BLOW UP International Arthouse Film Festival, the INDIS Festival, The Monkey Bread Tree Film Awards and Future Femme Fest.
Genesis reimagined in an enigmatic otherworld. Ideas latent in the original myth such as the double, pandora's box, apollo vs. dionysus and determinism vs. free will are distilled in a minimal testing ground.
The film is a modern reframing of the creation story through the lens of contemporary ideas around gender.
If Eve was made out of Adam's rib, would that make her a transgender clone?
Act 1: God's Calculation Room
The world has not been created yet. All that exists so far is a room where God lays out all his calculations for how to create the universe.
We are in the abstract world of elements that Plato speaks of: lava monoliths, sundials and the table of elements all point to the tools of a creator undertaking the creation of a cosmos.
There is a nod to state of innocence and playfulness as Adam plays hopscotch on the table of elements. The theme of innocence is an important in the film and the original myth itself.
Act 2: Corridor of Forms
We are now slightly further down the world creation pipeline. We are somewhere between the platonic and physical realm
God has created the male and female ideal form, which exist on either side of the space, hidden in between the columns.
There are only the male and female cookie cutter prototypes, they haven’t yet been ‘filled’ by future generations of humans.
Adam gets tired and takes a nap and God takes his rib to create Eve. Adam freaks out and escapes.
Act 3: Eve
From Adam’s point of view, Eve initially appears as prey on the horizon. The distorted piano punctures the white noise as the black dot pierces the white space.
As she gets closer the roles are reversed as she takes control of the scene: she becomes predator and he becomes prey. Since she was made out of Adam’s body she is the inverse, the ‘negative space.’ Adam and Eve’s contrasting presentation hints at the anatomical differences between man and woman. He initially sees her as an object through a hard Apollonian eye. However when he realises she is another human it becomes a completely different vibe.
Sporadic woody drum hits come in representing their bodies recalibrating to ancient, primordial rhythms.This is the most physical and ‘in the body’ scene compared to the previous which were more spacey. There is no environment to influence their behaviour. They are acting out an instinctual exchange, propelled by feelings below the level of consciousness.
This is the penultimate scene before the test in the ‘garden’. In the original Genesis story it wasn’t their fault they ate the apple because they had no sense of right and wrong. In my version, subtle contrasts are introduced before: man and woman, positive and negative, black and white, predator and prey. Eve embodies the snake, shedding her skin which colours the space from white to black.
Act 4: Snakes and Ladders
The game of snakes and ladders is an allegory for the trial of Adam and Eve. In the original myth, Adam and Eve bore moral culpability for eating the apple of temptation, however it could be argued that they had no real choice as they did not yet have knowledge of right or wrong. It is like a game of snake and ladders: the players have no agency, there is no choice or skill involved, all you can do is roll the dice and embrace your fate.
Adam and Eve play the game with an apple dreidel, instead of a regular dice. The apple dreidel represents God’s will as only he knows the number it will land on. The snakes represent falling to temptation, and the ladders represent ascension towards enlightenment.
Eventually, Adam and Eve end up in a situation which requires them to split, Adam is on the path to enlightenment whereas Eve is supposed to go down the snake.
The board is seemingly endless, they could keep playing ad infinitum, but Adam chooses to be with Eve. So he forgoes God’s will and follows her down the path of temptation, landing on the unlucky number. Realising they no longer need the apple, they suddenly ‘get hungry’ for their own free will and authority so they eat the apple as a sacrament.
The seed of Genesis was contemplating the potentially subversive gender narrative that could be read into Eve being made out of Adam's rib.
There exist many alternate readings of the creation story. For example some of the oldest Hebrew scholars, the writers of the Talmud believed that Adam was a hermaphrodite. Perhaps we have heard the Adam and Eve creation story so often that we overlook the flaws of its popular interpretation.
With this as my starting point, I was drawn to alchemical depictions of androgyny with its quixotic mysticism but also orderly, mathematical scrutiny of the body.
You can see the influence of Masonic iconography in the animated poster. Adam is playing an esoteric game of snakes and ladders, where the ladder represents the path to enlightenment and the snakes represent falling down the board to temptation.
I then started reading more, attempting to ground my ideas in theory.
I considered the creation myth's reversal of biological ontology: it depicts man bringing woman into the world, instead of vice versa.
In reality, it is the woman who brings man into the world and is his sole tether to life in infancy.
The parthenogenetic fantasy whereby woman is conceived from Adam's rib drew me to look at ideas of narcissism.
Now that I had fully explored my conceptual and aesthetic inspirations, I synthesised the two by formulating a spare, minimalist aesthetic for the film. Under The Skin (2013) ended up being a 'muse-en scène' for the aesthetic direction of the final film (see below).
At the time I considered myself a maximalist painter and a minimalist filmmaker, aiming to disrupt current trends I perceived in the art and film world: the clinical aesthetic of the white cube contrasted with the relentless sensory overstimulation in contemporary action blockbusters.
Under The Skin to me was like a visual palette cleanser for this tiresome trend, it is the best example of cinematic minimalism I have seen. It was like a cinematic corollary to the constructivist ‘end-of-art’ statement made by Alexander Rodchenko in 1921.
Rodchenko attempted to mark the end of easel painting – perhaps even the end of art with minimalist paintings, as he had felt that every form of expression and style had already been explored. Rodchenko proclaimed, "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, and yellow. I affirmed: it's all over."
Similarly, Under the Skin came at a time where we had reached a cultural impasse with CGI - you could create any number of explosions, car crashes, fight scenes etc. and it was just getting boring. So it was refreshing to see a film that did so much with so little.
The storyline of the film came to me in quick flashes, I developed the storyboard in a matter of days.
Then came the prop sourcing, casting, costume design, and research into motion graphics which I would have to learn.
I met David, who would go on to play the part of Adam and Eve, at a Soho gay bar on a Friday night after college. I thought that gay clubs would be a good place to scout androgynous models. He was in the doorway of the first club I went into - immediately I knew he would be a good fit. He already had a drag persona called Sierra (credited separately in the credits as Eve).
I sourced real snakes from a snake trainer who I hired to come into college and put the snakes on the green screen to film alongside David.
For the costume, I bought a pair of shorts and bra pads which I spray painted lime green so that I could change the colour in post production.
My parents were very helpful in the prop and costume department. My mother, who is a professional makeup artist, taught me how to paint a realistic looking incision on skin, so that I could do this myself on set. I first used my younger brother to practice body-painting.
The apple dreidel was made by my dad in his studio. A dreidel is a Jewish gambling toy, that fulfils a similar function as a dice. On set, we hung it from the lighting rig with some transparent fishing wire.
The 'tree of knowledge' brain at the end of the film was a watercolour that I painted and animated in post production.