Director Julia Ducournau’s latest horror film explores the monstrous relationship a person can have with their body
Off the heels of the successful and widely-talked-about film Raw, director Julia Ducournau continues to be fascinated by body horror, a subgenre of horror that deals with the human body in gory, disturbing, and intense ways. If anything, she levelled up the repulsiveness of her images to further explore the monstrous relationship between a person and their body. Don’t get me wrong, I was expecting and looking forward to this; I deeply admire Ducournau’s undaunted gaze. But Titane was an intense, shocking experience despite my preparedness.
Titane follows Alexia, a woman with a metal plate embedded in her skull after a childhood car crash, who now makes a living stripping at car shows. Viewers soon discover that she is responsible for several recent deaths. After an attempted murder goes wrong, she then steals the identity of a missing boy, Adrien, who hasn’t been seen in a decade. In disguise, she reunites with the boy’s father, posing as his lost son. If that wasn’t enough, Ducournau takes a fantastical, anthropomorphic (the application of human traits to non-human subjects) approach to Titane, where Alexia has special connections with vehicles. In between murder and identity theft, Alexia has sex with a car and quickly becomes pregnant with its child. Her stomach is protruding and scarred, and she leaks motor oil which underscores the fantastical horror element of this entire scenario. Meanwhile, Adrien’s father, Vincent, injects himself with steroids in an attempt to delay the effects of ageing. The rest of the film follows Alexia and her volatile relationship with Vincent, who believes that his son has finally returned home.
The film is difficult to digest. A sudden wave of emotion and intense imagery left me confused about what to think and feel. Despite the grotesque nature of its plot and style, Titane is somehow also about the validity of human love and connection. Despite the disconnect between mind and body, the war Alexia’s body rages on her and the way Vincent treats his own body, and their mutual distrust, their hearts still find a connection. This delicate aspect of the film is almost confusing once you realize it’s there. It’s hard to tell if there is real love between the characters, or if it’s a product of delusion and manipulation. As the film closes, it becomes evident that there is a certain beauty in the bond formed between Alexia and Vincent, despite their relationship forming under false pretenses.
In regards to the body horror that was featured in the film, there was also a fascinating display of gender fluidity. Alexia’s terrifying pregnancy parallels the disconnect between who she was and who she is trying to become: someone’s son. There is something to say about the clash between flesh and metal, love and alienation, hostility and isolation. It almost feels like three movies in one, but I think that demonstrates Ducournau’s skill at interweaving genres, visceral feelings, and images that conflict in compelling ways.
All in all, Ducournau explores the nasty parts of being human, and leaves the audience with the message that our bodies control us more than we control our bodies. Titane is thought-provoking, but don’t expect to understand this movie upfront, or even for a while after. It’ll leave you shocked or confused or uncomfortable, just as I felt. This film requires time to percolate in your mind, even multiple viewings. In the end, don’t watch this film if you have a weak stomach for gore or uncomfortable images.
Screenshot of Titane