By Layla Confides
The 2021 film Titane can be best described as a rollercoaster ride about love, family, and identity. These lessons are deeply embedded within the spectacle of Titane, hidden behind the loudness of gory murders, lustful cars, and broken noses.
Titane is the second feature film from Julia Ducournau, who has recently taken the throne for body-horror film with her cannibalistic debut, Raw, and now her second release, Titane. Paul Wells describes body horror as “the explicit display of the decay, dissolution and destruction of the body, foregrounding bodily processes and function under threat, allied to new physiological configurations and redefinitions of anatomical forms” (Reyes, 54). The body-horror genre is most commonly represented by David Cronenberg, a Canadian director known for films like The Brood, Videodrome, and Crash. Cronenberg's Crash, which explores the erotic allure of car wrecks, is most similar to Titane. The bold audacity and transgressive horror of Cronenberg and Ducournau have earned them critical acclaim. Most notably, Titane won the Palm d’Or, the most prestigious prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Ducournau has acknowledged Cronenberg’s influence on her work. In an interview with Focus Features, Ducournau states that Cronenberg “sees death and putrefaction and the changes of the body as something that is actually very emotional and pretty beautiful.” (Focus Features, 2017).Ducournau’s ability to combine emotion and beauty with horror and gore explains why viewers can’t stop watching Titane.
Ducournau’s Titane has rebirthed the genre coined by James Quant as the New French Extremity, which incorporates elements of body horror. This genre is not for the faint of heart, as it displays violence, sex, and human bodies pushed to unimaginable extremes. Combining body horror and erotic relationships between humans and automobiles, Titane epitomizes the New French Extremity. Ducournau casts various vehicles as supporting characters for our lead, Alexia, with a flame-wrapped Cadillac as a seductive force in Titane. Though this car may seem like a fond possession of Alexia, it gives us insight into her character and vulnerabilities. Alexia has the greatest confidence in herself when around or inside vehicles; as a dancer at a club protected by her car, she commits an array of transgressive acts in automobiles. Though her first memorable experience with a car is traumatic, Alexia takes control and reclaims vehicles as a place of safety, comfort, and pleasure. Ducournau mixes this sense of comfort with startling aspects of the New French Extremity, creating a technological body-horror film that makes the audience wonder if what they have seen is part of the narrative or the twisted perception of our lead.
While evoking elements of the New French Extremity, Ducournau challenges us in other ways: opening our minds up to exploring body horror through a new, provocative point of view. Ducournau’s open-ended and mysterious film leaves the audience questioning their ideas of gender, family, and love.
Alexia’s emotional connection to cars helps us understand her personality as cold, harsh, and inhuman. Though Titane is primarily a horror film, it allows the audience to see Alexia grow from being a stone-cold killer to a child bonding with their father. Ducournau makes viewers root for Alexia, no matter how horrific her actions, and ultimately relate to the main character as she struggles to form a gender and familial identity. As we watch Alexia transform from a steely killer into a vulnerable member of a found family, we see a once private person with nearly automotive reactions become a human with raw emotional connections to others.
Though Titane’s technological body horror will leave you with one eye open all night, its underlying messages about love will leave a long-lasting impact.