Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

The Bodyhorror of Ducournau

Titane is a transgressive film that is both fleshly yet literate, barbaric but brainy, and unsettling yet provocative. It won the Palme d’Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. In contrast, Julia Ducournau cleverly pushes the boundaries of the body horror genre. She challenges viewers with her protagonist, Alexia, engaging in sexual acts with a car to become impregnated, seemingly daring critics to grapple with such imaginative concepts.

However, the film is not limited to its title’s implications. It doesn’t fall into the usual conventions of mystical superpowers, femme fatale, or film noir involving men. Instead, Ducournau changes the narrative, delving into exploring the various layers of a woman’s image, using her lovemaking with a car as a symbolic surface. Additionally, she employs cannibalism as a metaphor to describe the intense desires of young adulthood.

Essentially, Ducournau’s interest lies in investigating the essence of vanity directly, delving into how malformations, needs, metals, and bodies coexist within an individual’s layers.

The Themes of Titane

The story of Titane revolves around Alexia, as mentioned at the beginning, who experienced a car accident in her childhood due to her father’s carelessness. As a result, Alexia had to undergo surgery, and her head was implanted with titanium plates. Alongside her career as a dancer, she faces harassment, leading her to seek cruel revenge. However, after committing a crime, she becomes a fugitive, adopting extreme measures to change her identity and escape capture. In a twist of fate, she crosses paths with a firefighter who lost his son a decade ago.

Once again, Julia Ducournau, the French writer and director of Raw, returns with her second installment of extreme cinema in Titane. By evoking the audience’s senses and emotions, she combines body horror with a narrative presented through two distinct points of view. The film brings the audience close to the influence of provocation but skillfully progresses with real development, eventually culminating in complete madness in the second half. The movie effectively alternates between brutality and plot control while introducing themes such as gender, found family, acceptance, birth, reincarnation, hope, and identity.

The Flesh

Titane is a transgressive fantasy film that is also disturbing. In a particular sequence, Alexia returns to the changing room of the car show to wash foamy sputum from her hair. There, she hears a sound and finds a lit Cadillac waiting. Naked and still wet from the shower, she climbs inside and positions herself on a stick. Wrapping her arms around the seat belt, the car comes to life, moving with bouncing hydraulics, and she finds herself covered in bruises on her inner thighs. She continues this act until she feels her stomach protruding and starting to growl. Alexia’s obsession with cars is not just a result of her accident or the titanium in her head. Her perspective on mechanics and automobiles reflects a traditional but unlikely relationship. Her obsession with metal piercings and flesh is evident when she engages in a comprehensive encounter with Justine. This presents the impetus of a sexual encounter between metal, flesh, and violence.

Titane starts its story with a series of bodies, and the act of vengeance on fire implies a complex relationship between a father and daughter. However, the film does not reveal specific details about the vacancies. This is why Alexia finds herself attracted to inanimate objects, similar to the themes explored in Swallow, directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis.

The Progressive Messages

Although often touted as one of the best body horror films of 2021, Titane draws much inspiration from famous body horror films such as Crash, directed by David Cronenberg. However, Ducournau takes a more progressive and meaningful approach, exploring the topic of femininity, brutality, and violence from an automotive perspective. The film offers the concept of acceptance and empathy as Alexia not only gives birth to children through sex with Cadillac cars but also presents a touching and groundbreaking moment in the history of filmmaking.

However, the crucial messages conveyed by Ducournau extend beyond whether Alexia is pregnant with a child from a car or a boy. The film’s essence lies in telling the story of turmoil, Alexia’s womanhood, and gender. The concept of motherhood is not limited to a specific gender but can be represented through other genders as well. Ultimately, in the film, Alexia is the central focus, regardless of the amount of empathy or hatred directed towards her.

The Fragility of Masculinity

In the first introduced sequence, Alexia is shown to be uncomfortable around other people, especially boys. She also has unresolved issues with her family, particularly due to her father’s actions. Additionally, she feels discontent with her environment and surroundings. As a result, she can be brutal and violent when feeling threatened or provoked.

In one scene, a rabid fan approaches her and attempts to harass her by forcibly kissing her, leading Alexia to kill him in disgust. This stems from her past experience of being kissed against her will. On a bus with a woman, a group of men indirectly sexually harass her, making inappropriate comments behind her back. She finds herself in an environment dominated by men with fragile masculinities, as she is the only woman present. Disgusting stares are directed at her when she does a strip dance, and the context of masculinity in the scene is uncertain about whether Alexia is a girl on a fire truck.

In essence, Ducournau portrays the idea of how masculinity and its toxicity impact the female protagonist’s perspective. The film not only explores her journey towards self-acceptance in terms of expression and identity but also highlights her discomfort with the reality she faces.

The Transgressive of Titane

After all, are all the characters in the film evil? The answer is no. Alexia, who feels uncomfortable in her environment, finds solace and comfort when she meets Vincent. Using medical bandages to cover her breasts and hide her pregnant belly, she presents herself as a boy to Vincent. Alexia can only trust Vincent, as he assures her that he doesn’t care who she was in the past. In Vincent’s eyes, she will always be his child. While the context explains that Vincent is a father struggling to accept the past, their meeting becomes a pivotal moment where Vincent is the only person who doesn’t know about Alexia’s history but can still offer her comfort and redemption, regardless of her past actions.

Titane takes such a surprising and transgressive approach, pushing the boundaries of body horror in ways that are rarely explored by other directors. The film goes beyond mere provocation and presents disgusting yet shocking imagery that adds to its overall impact. By portraying genuine feelings and emotions explicitly, the film offers an extraordinary, sweet, and sincere experience. As it reaches its emotional ending, the film subverts expectations in its depiction of Alexia’s motherhood figure, Vincent’s humanism, and the relationship between Alexia and Vincent’s son, showing that strong connections can exist beyond blood relations.

The Intimate Transcendence

By crafting a dark, transcendent, and intimate metamorphosis, Jim Williams contributes to piecing together the tone of Titane. He not only brings orchestral splendor to Raw but also blends a haunting voice into scenes of body horror and violence.

On the other hand, Ducournau skillfully captures Alexia’s mean streak and her struggles with her pregnant belly. In a specific scene, Alexia attempts to perform a self-abortion, and the sound design intensifies the nauseating impact. The film delves into fundamental thematic elements of gender, death, and birth, exploring how gender labels are often perpetuated to uphold patriarchal power structures in the world.

Titane is a transgressive and original film that defies easy classification. Ducournau presents her narrative singularly and ambitiously, captivating the audience and evoking emotions ranging from fascination to interest, tears, and anger, all from a human perspective. The film’s indescribable beauty lies in its willingness to embrace taboos in art and its portrayal of reality in a groundbreaking way, particularly in the realm of filmmaking.

Regardless of one’s perception, Titane represents a significant step towards accepting and embracing such deviations in art, especially in the portrayal of reality.


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