The worst feeling when walking out of a film is when disliking something that every other filmgoer seems to love. I had that feeling very strongly when I finished TITANE, the new film from critically-acclaimed independent filmmaker Julia Ducournau. Her only film thus far is a movie called Raw, and TITANE follows in the tradition of her previous film in that it contains extreme body horror and gruesome sequences that will disturb even the most seasoned veterans of horror. This movie is easily one of the most uncomfortable and difficult-to-stomach viewing experiences in recent memory, which many will view as a major compliment to the effectiveness of the narrative. However, I felt myself pondering the point of the film while I was watching, and once I began to realize that the jarring nature of the events was the whole intention, I found myself unable to appreciate the narrative in the way many others have.
Describing the plot of TITANE in detail would be a disservice to the experience Ducournau wants audience members to have when viewing, and even though I cannot say I was a fan, I still very much respect Ducournau as a filmmaker and an artist. Despite all of the gore and gross imagery, Ducournau directs the film with the expertise of an auteur and the precision of an artist who knows exactly how to manipulate each scene while behind the camera. When adding the beautiful cinematography on top of the direction, TITANE is a truly beautiful movie to look at while also being a disturbing experience. This was clearly the intention behind both the story and the style of the film — TITANE starts out almost like an art-house slasher horror, yet as it continues it reveals itself to be something far more tender and heartfelt.
Ducournau embarks on an admirable endeavour at times, but the movie never seemed to reconcile being both a gross horror movie and a tender love story. Because both elements are relied on so heavily, neither seems to fully hit home due to the other’s presence. Sure the movie is successfully disturbing, but it never does so in a way that I found emotionally or intellectually compelling, but only in a way that made me want to leave the theater (and I like horror films). Once the story becomes about love between two lonely, outcast individuals who could never find where they belong, it never takes off on an emotional level due to the constant reminder of the horror that exists in the background of the narrative. When the ending reaches the emotional climax and the credits roll, I only found myself feeling slight confusion and relief that I could move on with my night instead of a lasting emotional response.
To go even further, much of the movie felt so odd and random that it never emotionally impacted me in the way I wish it would have. The film could have perhaps been a fascinating character study of a disturbed and isolated individual who doesn’t feel at home anywhere in society, but Ducournau includes so many scenes that specifically exist to evoke a physical response from the audience that the movie feels confused as to what kind of story it wants to tell. The main emotion I felt during the movie was a disgusted confusion that eventually gave way to boredom as I realized the narrative was not going to give me any meanings that justified the aggressive content. What could have saved TITANE from being a pretentious oddity, even though it still may have its problems, is a thematic purpose beyond a weak relationship between two troubled characters. I constantly searched for a metaphor that explained the constant inclusion of titanium and cars in the film, or even some themes or messages that gave the audience a social commentary regarding any aspect of the human experience. Instead, viewers are just given a deluge of weird events that never add up to a meaningful conclusion, and a narrative that comes off as pretentious instead of the artistic breakthrough that Ducournau seems to deserve.
While TITANE is very much not for me, next time Ducournau releases a film, my attention will not be hard to gain. Ducournau clearly has immense talent and contains the potential for some great and horrifying material in the future, which makes TITANE all the more infuriating, because that material never quite takes off here. I understand why many love it, and it is true that I have never viewed a film quite like it, but in the end nothing seems to come together in a manner that the average moviegoer will deem meaningful or worth viewing. The movie is trying harder to challenge the audience with its unorthodox and physical narrative than it is creating something meaningful for a vast majority of audience members, and for that I found TITANE to be close to unwatchable for much of its runtime.