‘Titane’ Is A Shocking And Violent Horror, And One Of The Most Moving Films Of 2021

The French film caused mass fainting and walk-outs at its recent Sydney screening - but beyond the gore is a film of beauty.


Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

In 1972, the two French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari wrote their masterwork, a radical re-understanding of capitalism called Anti-Oedipus.

In the opening pages of that dense, wormy novel, Deleuze and Guattari reframe the body as a kind of machine; a mechanical, ornate way of processing the world and society at large.

There are, the two writers note, all kinds of machines, from desire machines to anus machines to mouth machines. All human behaviour, from eating and shitting to fucking, is reframed as a means of processing sensory data and producing some kind of product; some tangible, named object.

Titane, the new film by French auteur Julia Ducournau works similarly. In Ducournau’s world, bodies are largely indistinguishable from cars. When Alexia, the film’s main character, forms a union with a car, one’s attention is drawn not to the differences between these two mechanised systems, but their similarity.

Alexia, her head fitted with a titanium plate, the last vestiges of a childhood accident, is as much a product as the car that impregnates her. Both have been reframed by capitalism, their corporeality stripped and mined for its intimacy.

Because Titane is a film about the body, it is also a film about gender. Alexia, on the run from a crime that is best left to be discovered afresh by the viewer, takes refuge in the home of a firefighter named Vincent, whose son had gone missing years prior. Believing Alexia to be the vanished boy, Vincent overlooks her markers of femininity, ignoring the platinum buff of societal notions of how a girl appears, how a boy acts.

Ducournau’s vision is of a world where re-description of all sorts is possible, even a total re-description of gender, one that seems catastrophically at odds with the vision of the rest of the world. Her characters are, though flawed, deeply free. They are able to re-constitute themselves into whatever parts that they want, to bring broader society and its expectations along with them even as they tear those expectations to their oily, composite parts.

Such interests will immediately draw to mind the work of David Cronenberg, that other poet of the body, whose best films — Dead RingersThe Brood, Existenz — also re-examined the ways that society can be used as a tool, picked up and discarded at whim, all in the process of re-staging the play that dances across all of our skins.

But where Ducournau deviates from Cronenberg, and particularly his film Crash, is her embracement of contingency. For Ducournau, there is no essential nature to the flesh; to the visible world; nothing that says our narratives have to be shaped in any which way. While Cronenberg’s heroes are often doomed, thrashing uselessly against a system that seeks to constrict them, Alexia manages to re-establish herself in a total novel way, literally transforming as her belly grows swollen and her physical frame warps and buckles.

Underneath the gore, the horror, is a wellspring of belief in true authority.

That means, somewhat paradoxically for a film that is heavy on visceral violence (so much so that an early Sydney screening of the film prompted walk-outs, and made several viewers faint), that Titane is above all else, a message of hope. Underneath the gore, the horror, is a wellspring of belief in true authority.

These internal changes that we go through — these re-assessments of our entire lives — can manifest themselves physically. But more than that, they can manifest a change in the actual external world. We are not alone, trapped in our mortal frames. We are meaningfully connected to those around us; when we change, so do they.

A word for this is “community.” A word for this is “intimacy.” A word for this is “change.” Titane understands that such change is violent; a rupture of sorts. But what makes the film unique is the way it understands just as viscerally that such change is essential; that there is beauty in it too. And so we — like Alexia; like Vincent — slide across the surface of the world as moss, coupling and re-coupling with ourselves, forever in a process of vicious becoming.

Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.

Titane releases in Australian cinemas on Thursday November 25. It was screened as part of the 2021 Sydney Film Festival.