WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
“Titane”, which opened in U.S. theaters on Oct. 1, starts with a brutal car crash and ends with the birth of a half-human, half-Cadillac infant.
Presumptive car sex aside, the two extremes of the car crash and the birth hold a warped mirror to today’s divisive, post-LiveLeak contemporary culture. They reflect a modern media society that has long forgotten the difference between extreme violence and inexplicable beauty, resounding pain and unconditional love and humanity and technology.
Director Julia Ducournau’s visceral display of these dualities is what makes this French import the year’s clearest and most realized carnival of bodily horrors. Though not for the faint of heart, “Titane” pushes the art of filmmaking forward by moderating depictions of physical and mental carnage with infectiously thought-provoking storytelling.
The movie takes place from the perspective of Alexia, played by newcomer Agatha Rousselle, before partially shifting attention to Vincent, portrayed by award-winning veteran actor Vincent London.
Alexia works as an erotic dancer for luxury car shows. Her initial appetite for blunt force murder and wanton destruction channels are side-effects of a life-altering injury she suffered during her adolescence—the aforementioned car accident.
The titanic plate implanted in her skull separates her brain’s moral senses from the cruel, cold atrocities she commits during her stint as an adult femme fa-Terminator.
As much of an anti-heroine she might be, Alexia is still the hero of this story. To that end, Ducournau infuses the Homeric template of alienation, estrangement and reconciliation into the character’s journey.
Ducournau also includes a scene early on where Alexia is impregnated by an anthropomorphic, hydraulics-outfitted Cadillac. In an incredible intersection of metaphor and imagery, Alexia’s insides are progressively torn to shreds throughout the film as she carries this mechanical miracle of vehicular savagery.
After 30 minutes of hot-blooded serial killing, Alexia evades authorities by assuming the identity and familial life of a male child who had been missing for ten years. She continues her cursed existence from where another’s had ended, in some way attracted to the idea of reclaiming the childhood innocence she had lost.
By embracing the gender-swapped identity of “Adrien”, Alexia becomes the proverbial Jesus figure of a twenty first-century world. Self-inflicted body reconfigurations and all, she has risen from the dead and finds herself obeying the word of her new “father”, Vincent.
Vincent is a firefighter by trade, but only once does he extinguish a real fire. He is instead engulfed in a world perpetually aflame from both inside his mind and out. The “fight” at the center of his story is one against that steroid-fueled fog of sadness and damaged masculinity.
It’s from here that Ducournau trades vignettes of gore and ruin with mystifying moments of soul-filling music and dream-like colors. What some publications deemed the most shocking film of 2021 slowly morphs into an empathetic if unforgivingly candid ride through the postmodern human condition.
Beyond its chromatic finish, “Titane”’s potential for a myriad of different interpretations anoints its feminist director as a worthy successor of past surrealist auteurs, such as Luis Bruñel and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
It’s a gritty and restless summation of 120 years’ worth of B-Movies and sci-fi romps where the lines between man and machine are blurred to revealing extents; for example, movies like “Christine”, “Blade Runner”, “Metropolis”.
However, searching deeper into the film’s engine, a more universal aim to access the subconscious of the viewer arises.
After one hour and 48 minutes of human depravity at its absolute grimiest, Ducournau washes the audience with a blindingly bare white screen.
Though this end credits sequence serves to expose the moviegoing public that indulged in the preceding atrocity exhibition, it also represents the bright light an infant sees when they first enter this strange and violent earth.
That meta-physical turn of the spotlight toward the audience is the final duality “Titane” addresses, while at the same time declaring the film’s triumph in having brought forth viewers’ suppressed pleasures from the dark crevices of their minds and bodies.
Wyatt Layland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.