Titane ★★★★

"I don't care who you are."

After only two feature films, what I find most compelling about the films of Julia Ducournau is her empowerment through otherness. She makes authentic misfit cinema, movies for outsiders not only in our current conception of inside and outside but on her own terms, otherness written in the vocabulary of something completely new. Titane begins as a gender-swapped pseudo-slasher of sorts: a woman is preyed upon by the social and sexual pressures of a presumptuous man, so she kills him and hooks up with the hot chick from work. Girl power cinema — or so it would seem. Then she fucks the car.

Titane (and, in a slightly different way, Raw) is not merely about flipping our current dichotomies, not just about how men are creepy predators so let's empower women against them; no, it's about those things and also so much more. It's about the birth of something entirely novel, creating something entirely Other — and embracing that radical alterity. This is why fixating on the specificity of the films' fetishism misses the broader point. To say "oh, what a car-freak this Ducournau is, what a cannibal-freak," this misses the point that in our own ways we are all freaks — or, I don't know, maybe you're "normal," but I'm certainly not.

Titane opens with an incidence of severe breakage between the mind and the body, a car crash that results in enough cranial trauma for the doctor to advise that Alexia and her father be on the lookout for neurological symptoms, the supposedly stable connection between the cognitive and the corporeal severed irreparably. Alexia's unity between body and mind has been disrupted and she's been scarred by this disruption both physically and mentally, but she's not the only one with scars, and she's not the only one suffering from a kind of corporeal dysphoria.

This is why Vincent needs Alexia just as much as Alexia needs Vincent: they've both been poorly served by their gendered social roles. There's a strange kind of similarity between Alexia cutting her hair and wrapping her body in order to pass as a man and Vincent injecting himself with steroids only to scream in frustration as he fails to do as many pull-ups as he wants. They are both exerting control over their bodies, sculpting and contorting themselves in their own image because the image they've been offered is no good. And this parallelism continues on to their trauma: Vincent tries to cut Alexia's hair and nicks her scar; Alexia tries to give Vincent his steroids and hurts him.

We all have bruises where we've been hurt in the past, whether by others or by ourselves, and this is what I love about Ducournau: she sees these wounds as points of connection, not points of division; she finds autonomy through alienation, fellowship through difference, inclusion through exclusion. We are not united by our similarities, we are not who we are because of all the ways we are like everyone else, and there can be loneliness in this isolation, but there can also be validation once we figure out how to embrace ourselves in our most radical inhumanity — and Ducournau has certainly hit upon a radically new vision of humanity.

Because the point isn't to embrace either side of the equation, because either way we're forcing ourselves into predefined categories of gender or identity or personhood. The point is that the equation and the categories themselves are broken. Normative gender identities are only helpful insofar as they empower and uplift us, the way Vincent is empowered and uplifted by being a father, no matter who his son is. The only genuine or authentic ways to exist together are to accept each other in our most radical form of alterity, to accept each other as the bearer of the car-baby, because in our otherness we find togetherness, in our alterity we find unity.

"You can tell me you're not my son."

2021 | Directed by Women | Horror | France

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