“Titane” Is a Boundary-Pushing, Binary-Breaking Work of Queer Body Horror

This review does not include major spoilers for Titane, but if you’re already planning on seeing it, I recommend knowing as little as possible. 


Flesh is just another binary.

Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane starts as a simple film. Alexia (played by newcomer Agathe Rousselle) is a dancer who grinds on cars as men gawk. She is a portrait of alt femininity and she’s desired by people of all genders. One such admirer followers her to her car and she kills him in gleeful self-defense. Another is a fellow dancer — they have a nipple ring related meet cute and start hooking up. A simple film about being a woman.

The first thirty minutes satirize the male gaze and set up a lesbian love story. They present an antihero who gives creepy men what they deserve and who finds connection beyond her cold father and the other offerings of his gender. And, sure, that includes literally fucking a Cadillac.

But the beginning is a trick. A suggestion that gender is simple and can be shown in simple terms. That women are objectified and men are predators. That women have to fight back and work together and fuck each other or at least a car. But gender is not simple. We are all objectified. We are all predators. And yeah it’s hot when a woman sucks on another woman’s nipple ring but it’s not going to save the world.

And so Titane explodes its own premise. Alexia’s violence becomes unjustifiable and then she switches her gender. It’s out of desperation and not. She becomes a man and not.

This is not a trans film but it is a film about gender and isn’t that the same thing? We say we want to destroy binaries — well here is a film that does just that. Male and female. Straight and gay. Trans and cis. Truth and lies. Flesh and metal.

Masculinity is shown to be toxic. It’s also shown to be beautiful and complicated and tender. A father can be distant and abusive. A father can be physical and loving. Goodness is just another binary that does not exist. Nothing and nobody is good. But we see masculinity in all it has to offer — femininity only as a trap.

Julia Ducournau can be described in many ways. I would say she’s a visionary. After just two films, she’s established a unique, carnal voice — a visual style and grasp on sound design and score that’s akin to getting murdered at a night club. Raw is a perfect film. Titane is better than a perfect film.

Julia Ducournau can be described in many ways and that includes cis. She has said her “vision of the world is queer” but she’s never identified her gender or sexuality with any labels. And she doesn’t have to. I will champion artists who claim their queerness and transness loudly and publicly. But I will also champion this enigmatic French woman when her art speaks so clearly for itself.

Titane is not a film that can be solved. Its allegories are sensory. Its themes only felt. And, for me, I felt something very true. About masculinity, about femininity, about bodies and violence and pain and connection. About queerness. About transness. About life.

Being trans is body horror, because being a person is body horror. Trans people are not artificial. All people are artificial. We cut protein filaments off our scalp and this changes who we are. That’s just as strange as fucking a Cadillac.


Titane is now playing in theatres.


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drewgregory1224

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 206 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Really want to see this because I’ve only seen rave reviews, but could anyone who’s seen it let me know how intense the body horror is for the slightly squeamish? I’m fine with horror movies, i like to be scared, but I can’t really do torture or super prolonged body horror. I guess a good metric is I found Hereditary intense but I liked it a lot. However, I did not like Midsommar.

  2. I saw Titane this summer when it came out in France and have been waiting to read your opinion on it since – I wish you had gone into the major spoilers :D

    For those who are worried about gore, I would say the first 20 minutes or so are pretty rough but then it goes more into like… uncomfortable territory. My aunt is very squeamish and still enjoyed it, she was just hiding behind her hands a lot in the first part.

    I get scared easily and horror movies often keep me scared a long time after finishing them, not in a fun way. In this case Titane definitely stayed with me a while after watching but not in a bad way, not the gorey scenes but the touching moments (there are some !)

  3. I disagree with the work talks for her. As a French trans working in movies that had to leave cause there is no opportunity there for us, I would argue the work does not speak for her. I would argue she is not even aware of the meaning of what she did for our community, she never mention the community, not sure she even though of hiring anyone of the community as part of the crew for example, not sure she thinks of the impact positive or negative it can have for the community. The profit of the film will probably go back to white straight men in their 50’s, she talks more about film genre than genre. I think it is someone very very smart, probably questioning herself, with a vision yes but this is it. The rest of her upcoming work will say if I was wrong, or if she will come out even to herself but France is a society that resist very strongly the progressivist ideas that come from this side of the world, they refuse the vocabulary, the concepts, the ideas, and it would be interesting to analyze how you make a movie like this and are not able to politicized it. Imagine two minute if it was an American trans director who made it, what they would say to the media, what kind of people that would be involved and what they would say for the community. You see how different is.

  4. This film just isn’t as good as Ducourneau’s last movie Raw. It’s weird as fuck and doesn’t make any sense half the time.

    SPOILERS:

    The fact that the main character gets impregnated by a car is not the strangest thing that happens in this movie is telling. It’s the reaction that many characters have towards certain situations that is truly bizzare.

    Also the main character is extremely dislikable. And yes you can still like a movie and dislike the characters, but this one – I found it hard to relate to her on any level.

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