In shows every single detail of a

   In this critical reading about the French-Belgian horror drama Raw by Julia Ducournau (2016) I will
focus on various arguments we’ve covered throughout the semester and hopefully
connect all of them together in a way that makes sense. The main reason I
choose this movie, knowing it would be hard to criticise, is that Raw, so the director Julia Ducournau,
touches so many ongoing debates but she does it so delicately and gracefully,
it may seem just like a regular horror movie for most people, but once you get
a glimpse of what it actually is it is impossible not to be impressed. It has
so many levels that I was both amazed and confused while picking my reading
materials for it, because  almost all of
them fit. I will create a journey for this paper but especially for myself to
fully understand how this many elements came together so flawlessly and created
a magical movie.    First of all I want
to talk about the main reason why Ducournau choose cannibalism as her main
subject. After reading Timothy Holland’s article about “virtual flesh” I came
to conclusion that cannibalism is not “banal” yet. What I mean by that is the
fact that blood shed, dismemberment, interior organs are no longer an “ick
factor” for current cinema viewers. As the article discusses the more capitals
try to conceal the death penalties and executions, the more they find
themselves a place on the silver screen. It is easier now than ever to make a
scene that shows every single detail of a decapitation. Thanks to technological
developments those vivid and brutal images are no longer discreet but are
available in every click. That is not the case at all for cannibalism. That
being said the main reason that pushed Cronenberg to make less fleshy movies is
the same reason Ducornau choose cannibalism because there aren’t many materials
or raw footage concerning a cannibal, also it has never been a preferable topic
even in the horror movie genre. These two director’s decisions may seem exact
opposite of each other but really they have the same source of concern to
create an uncanny environment for spectator and at the same time keep them
wondering and make them watch the movie with a sense of suspense. Cronenberg
does it by not hiding the flesh, while Ducornau does it by making her character
eat it. While the viewers lost their appetite for regular fleshy, bloody movies,
she came with one that literally locks you to the screen. You don’t want to see
it, but you can’t get your eyes off of it. It is a desire so suppressed that
you don’t even realise you actually want to see it. Cannibalism is “The Taboo”,
together with incest. Unacceptable and unspeakable. She breaks this taboo by
putting it into a horror movie, so a body genre like pornography and melodrama,
as Carol Clover describes it. She says body genres are often described as low
because “…the spectator is caught up in
an almost involuntary mimicry of the emotion or sensation the body on the
screen along with he fact that the body displayed is female.” This quote
especially has an importance for me because while I was watching the movie, in
the most intense scenes of cannibalism, I found myself biting my hand because
of my nervousness, which is the exact same mimicry that I adopted from the
ongoing spectacle. Also here is no doubt both Raw, even if it’s only at the beginning, and other movies of the
body genre are concentrated on female victimisation. But the main argument here
is this dominated, punished woman in horror movies are the ones the male
spectators identify themselves with. Clover explains the situation as “…the horror film may present an
interesting, and perhaps instructive, case of oscillation between masochistic
and sadistic poles. This more recent argument has suggested that pleasure, for
a masculine identified viewer, oscillates between identifying with the initial
passive powerlessness of the abject and terrorised girl-victim of horror and
her later, active empowerment.” She names this situation as “active power with bisexual components”. In
Raw we watch our main character, Justine, who is a vegetarian girl that freaks
out even by a little piece of meat found in her mashed potatoes, who is also a
virgin and living in her own perfect world, growing an enormous appetite for
human flesh after being forced to eat a rabbit’s kidney at her first week of
veterinary collage. She transforms from a girl who totters in high heels and
gets bullied almost every day to a woman who literally,

eats people. This intense
transformation is a salvation for her, she became what she ought to become in
order to survive. She went from passive “good
girl” to active “bad girl” (as
Linda Williams describes) by
discovering her pleasures and acting on them, both sexually and concerning her
appetite. Of course for that reason, in the end she needs to be punished. As we
can see in most of the horror movies of today, female victim generally
encounters her “monster” in an act leading to sexual anticipation. She either
on the road to visit her boyfriend, or she is waiting for him and the attack
takes place unexpectedly. This is almost like a punishment for attempting to
discover her own sexuality. It can even be read as a castration for the female
protagonist. In Raw, towards the end
of having sex with her openly gay roommate Adrian, Justine bites and chews on
her own arm, which is her punishment to herself right at the moment of
intercourse. That moment is a milestone for Justine, she discovered her deepest
desires sexually and culinarily, while Adrian become the perfect representation
of Clover’s “active power with bisexual
components”. 

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   After reading the movie
through approaches concerning gender and flesh, I want to focus more on the
body, what it becomes and how it is related to the origins, so the family.
Justine’s change is both psychological and physical. She was never in touch
with her body before collage but through the process she went under,
discovering herself, trying out new identities, discovering her pleasures, at
the end of the movie she is a complete different “being”. We can say she became
something else, therefor she is a “becoming” in her own way. While talking about
becomings, I can’t help but quote Deleuze and Guattari “…identity and subjectivity are tied to the body; and bodies in these
films are mutable and open to change. These films suggest an ethological
understanding of the body where bodies are not fixed and static but constantly
changing with their environment and other bodies.” While becomings we watch are in constant
change, we are too as spectators. We are constantly moving in our seats while
watching them, so while they’re interacting with their bodies, we are
interacting with ours and changing alongside the characters. We became aware of
our bodies and our own presence like never before. If you ask me, his is where
the real magic lays. In theory we watch inhuman beings -it can be aliens,
vampires or in this case cannibals- but as humans, we are so moved by them that
almost we become them. So does this make us inhuman for a period of time? The
suppressed desire to constantly move and change and most importantly to constantly “become”, is surfaced while watching them and I
strongly think even for a while, we envy them mainly because we like the idea
of being full of possibilities. We like the idea of a world without any
categories. We want to be what we are, even if that means eating people, we
want to be that so badly. Maybe if we can be what we truly are, all the power
systems that pressures us to be stereotypical will fall apart and we can
finally be “free”. Rizzo puts it as “Without
a fixed notion of the human, there can be no fixed notion of categories such as
sexuality, gender, race and ethnicity. It is not that these categories do not
exist, or that the politics associated with them can be solved in a purely
conceptual way, but their parameters are not fixed in time. This further
implies that if the categories of male and 
female are unstable and open to change, then they cannot be set up as
binary opposites.” This is a very primal desire and by hiding them into
horror movies directors activate that primal side of us. For me, this is the
smartest move a filmmaker can and will ever do because horror movies are
already body genres, so they move us but by putting such delicate psychological
matters into them they catch us off guard. That is why Raw has impressed so many people in such short time. It whispered our
primal drive into our ears and almost paralysed us by it’s

reality. 

  
Finally I will take a look at the concept of abjection and it’s meaning
in horror movies and in Raw.  Us humans are abjects ourselves. We are
obsoleted at the Oedipal stage and never succeed to be whole with any other
entity after our mother ever again. Maternal figure’s monstrousness in almost
every horror movie represent both admiration and fear regarding the mother. We
are defined by our mother, in theory and in reality. We need to be separated
from her but we need her to constantly draw the line of who we are. Creed says “abject draws the line between human and
non-human.” By showing us the abject horror movies work as reminders of
humanity. We watch the movies, confront with the abject (bodily fluids,
monsters, dead bodies) and remember the line that we can’t cross in real life.
Horror movies take on the duty of a mother, as if they need to get us in check
and prevent us from losing our sense of borders. They do it by using the
advantages of the genre and it’s subtext that every single person on Earth
knows. If there is a representation of a monster in the horror movie, that is
an absolute no no. You can’t become that you can’t resemble that, you can’t
even put too much thought in that. That is “THE MONSTER”. End of the story.
From this perspective if horror movies act like our mothers, it is inevitable
that the main characters are female. We identify with them and they define us
with showing what they experienced. What is interesting in Raw is that, also the monster is a female, in fact it is a mother.
The mother. Until the end of the movie we accept the fact that Justine and her
sister are troubled teens and they need to be cured, if not, eliminated from
the society. What we don’t know is after Justine’s also cannibal sister eats
her roommate’s leg and kills him, director reveals that their also vegetarian
mother is a cannibal from the beginning and slowly and constantly eats their
father piece by piece. This means they never fully “rejected” their mother,
they still live in a shared identity with her, so they never got to the Oedipal
stage. They are not abjects, nor the mother. By revealing the ending like this,
Ducornau implies that if they are not abjects, we cannot define ourselves from
their wrongs and inhumanity because there is no abject to draw the line between
human and non-human in this movie. She is saying that it is “normal”. She
doesn’t give us the change to experience catharsis. We can’t draw the line
especially after the father’s closing line: “This
wasn’t your fault, nor your sister’s. She was different from the beginning, me
and your mother couldn’t find a cure, later i guess she just got used to what
she is. (Opens up his shirt and reveal all of his bite marks) Don’t worry dear,
you too will find a way.” 

   Making a horror movie that
tells a story of a cannibal family is a hard task to begin with, but ending the
movie by not giving the audience the cathartic experience it should give, and
indicating that being a “monster” is the normal thing that exist in every day
life and you should accept who you are and find a way to live with it is almost
impossible. Ducornau does it exquisitely with Raw. The audience end the movie feeling completely meaningless. All
of our understandings about horror genre and becomings has changed forever. She
took it to the next level and I hope to see more movies that has the same depth
as Raw in the future. 

x

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