Julia Ducournau might be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. She only has two feature length films under her belt so far, 2016’s Raw and now Titane, but both have challenged expectations not only in the horror genre but in film as a medium.
Both films fall under the category of body horror, but as with other body horror films directed by women, such as In My Skin by Marina de Van or American Mary by the Soska Sisters, the body can be a thing of joy as well as of horror. The beauty of body horror films, especially those made by women, is the exploration and consideration of the body, be it horrific or not. Cinema is so often concerned with the image of the body and not the feel, or the sound, the lived experience – in particular for women’s bodies.
Even if the body is being in some way ‘damaged’ or ‘perverted’, it is liberating just to see it considered, in all of its detail. Titane and Ducournau portray this perfectly. Nudity is frequent and matter of fact, de-sensationalising it as a state of being. Movement, especially dancing, is centred and even glorified. The sounds that the body makes are amplified, eating, breathing, the gurgling of a stomach, details that are intrinsic to living yet so often glossed over in film.
Making us the audience so aware of the body is a wonderful experience, but also allows for the ‘horror’ aspect of ‘body horror’ to be all the more effective. By focusing on being in a body on screen, by extension we are more present in our real body. Then, when the body on screen is damaged, we feel it in our own all the more strongly.
This was intentional on Ducournau’s part, especially as a means of tying the audience to the less-than-sympathetic protagonist Alexia. Ducournau shared that “my entry point was her body […] I decided that if I can not make you feel emotions for her for the first 30 minutes, then I’m going to make you feel what she feels in her body, under her skin […] that is for me a way to create like an umbilical cord between you and the character by playing on this body empathy that everyone feels in life”.
But this is all very theoretical and artsy-sounding, and it would be misleading to claim that Titane operates only on that level. It’s also just an insane and wonderfully weird horror film that jumps expertly from one wild moment to another, never letting up and most certainly never being boring. Body horror is a fairly divisive genre, one you either like or you don’t. But with Titane, same as with Raw, I’d be tempted to recommend it to everyone anyway just because it is so fascinatingly unique and complex. I’d wager there’s something for everyone in there, if you can stomach it.
I could write essays on what could be read from Titane’s plot, but I worry I’d spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, so I’ll just say this: we’ve lived to see man-made horrors beyond our comprehension so now what do we do with them? In the world of Titane, we simply learn to live with them, perhaps fetishize them, and maybe even love them.