Written & Directed by Julia Ducournau
I am going to try to spoil as little of this movie as possible because I went into it having only seen the trailers. Said trailers do an excellent job of conveying the film’s mood without giving away one iota of plot or characters. Inevitably I will give some plot details, though I plan on being as vague as I can, and I will talk about the characters to a certain extent. My goal is to entice those of you who haven’t seen it yet to take the bait and sit down and give Titane a watch (it’s currently up for rent in the iTunes store). If you enjoyed Julia Ducournau’s Raw, then you are going to love this movie.
The experience of watching Titane will take you down many varied emotional paths. There’s outright visceral body horror that will make you squirm paired with sudden moments of tenderness where lonely people cling to each other. Our main character Alexia (Agathe Rouselle), is a lanky hypersexual animal who craves human contact while lashing out against it. She’s marked as a child after an accident, and the events surrounding its cause and aftermath shape the person she becomes. Her journey collides with Vincent (Vincent Lindon), an aging firefighter whose son went missing a decade earlier. They find a void to be filled in each other, but it’s unclear for a long time if this will save or destroy them.
I can immediately understand how an unassuming viewer would be completely turned off by this movie. Ducournau does not hold back in her violent imagery and approaches very Lynchian places. There’s a lot of metaphor happening, and characters often represent more significant concepts as well as their literal selves. Alexia barely has a line of dialogue in this movie, which is used to both separate her from the rest of humanity and then, when she does speak, finally reveal aspects of the character we thought were absent. Vincent talks incessantly, filling a silence he cannot bear. He clings to Alexia because she represents his last chance to love and care for someone in this world.
Titane is a film overflowing with love while also being transgressive and violent. Alexia has a contentious relationship with her family from the first scene of the movie. It’s clear that love is absent in her home from an early age, and we are left wondering what caused this. Vincent is a person who is dying because he cannot love the person he lost. Yet, out of all this pain and suffering comes the message of how vital tenderness is between people. The film’s lighting is harsh; there is repeated imagery of chrome & steel, all very cold things that add to the atmosphere. Ducournau fills us with this sense of neutral distance only to shatter it all in the third act and reveal a moment that is equal parts horror and something beautiful & heartbreaking.
There’s a refrain in the world of film analysis about “who is the next Stanley Kubrick?” This comes out of the very stark images and intent that the director brought to cinema. I have found the more I’ve studied his work, the less I see a lot of modern directors being a match for Kubrick. I would argue passionately that Ducournau is picking up the mantle and expanding Kubrick’s themes in remarkable and beautiful ways. She presents her stories with a level of passivity, never judging the characters for what they do and simply letting the story play out. The director explicitly wants to jar the viewer, presenting a world where impossible things can happen and making us accept them because of the raw human emotion happening on screen. Ducournau allows for more expression than Kubrick did, but her images are just as powerful.
And if we compare directors, she also strongly inherits the mantle of David Cronenberg, even more convincingly than his son Brandon. In the same way, we cringe at the body horror of Videodrome or The Fly, we’re given some achingly painful moments in Titane. The violence is often uniquely feminine in that the specific things happening is something I believe a female viewer would strongly connect with. Themes of birth, sex, and the destruction of the body abound. These things often make cis men squeamish, and I am sure they are both unpleasant and relief to see on screen by female viewers. If you are a filmgoer seeking a unique experience that has to be seen, then Titane is overflowing with riches. I guarantee there is no other movie in 2021 that will hit you are monumentally as this one.