In this critical reading about the French-Belgian horror drama Raw by Julia Ducournau (2016) I willfocus on various arguments we’ve covered throughout the semester and hopefullyconnect all of them together in a way that makes sense. The main reason Ichoose 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 geta glimpse of what it actually is it is impossible not to be impressed. It hasso many levels that I was both amazed and confused while picking my readingmaterials for it, because almost all ofthem fit. I will create a journey for this paper but especially for myself tofully understand how this many elements came together so flawlessly and createda magical movie. First of all I wantto talk about the main reason why Ducournau choose cannibalism as her mainsubject. After reading Timothy Holland’s article about “virtual flesh” I cameto conclusion that cannibalism is not “banal” yet. What I mean by that is thefact that blood shed, dismemberment, interior organs are no longer an “ickfactor” for current cinema viewers. As the article discusses the more capitalstry to conceal the death penalties and executions, the more they findthemselves a place on the silver screen.
It is easier now than ever to make ascene that shows every single detail of a decapitation. Thanks to technologicaldevelopments those vivid and brutal images are no longer discreet but areavailable in every click. That is not the case at all for cannibalism. Thatbeing said the main reason that pushed Cronenberg to make less fleshy movies isthe same reason Ducornau choose cannibalism because there aren’t many materialsor raw footage concerning a cannibal, also it has never been a preferable topiceven in the horror movie genre. These two director’s decisions may seem exactopposite of each other but really they have the same source of concern tocreate an uncanny environment for spectator and at the same time keep themwondering and make them watch the movie with a sense of suspense. Cronenbergdoes it by not hiding the flesh, while Ducornau does it by making her charactereat 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 seeit, but you can’t get your eyes off of it.
It is a desire so suppressed thatyou don’t even realise you actually want to see it. Cannibalism is “The Taboo”,together with incest. Unacceptable and unspeakable. She breaks this taboo byputting 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 lowbecause “…the spectator is caught up inan almost involuntary mimicry of the emotion or sensation the body on thescreen along with he fact that the body displayed is female.” This quoteespecially has an importance for me because while I was watching the movie, inthe most intense scenes of cannibalism, I found myself biting my hand becauseof my nervousness, which is the exact same mimicry that I adopted from theongoing spectacle. Also here is no doubt both Raw, even if it’s only at the beginning, and other movies of thebody genre are concentrated on female victimisation. But the main argument hereis this dominated, punished woman in horror movies are the ones the malespectators identify themselves with.
Clover explains the situation as “…the horror film may present aninteresting, and perhaps instructive, case of oscillation between masochisticand sadistic poles. This more recent argument has suggested that pleasure, fora masculine identified viewer, oscillates between identifying with the initialpassive powerlessness of the abject and terrorised girl-victim of horror andher later, active empowerment.” She names this situation as “active power with bisexual components”. InRaw we watch our main character, Justine, who is a vegetarian girl that freaksout even by a little piece of meat found in her mashed potatoes, who is also avirgin and living in her own perfect world, growing an enormous appetite forhuman flesh after being forced to eat a rabbit’s kidney at her first week ofveterinary collage. She transforms from a girl who totters in high heels andgets bullied almost every day to a woman who literally, eats people.
This intensetransformation is a salvation for her, she became what she ought to become inorder to survive. She went from passive “goodgirl” to active “bad girl” (asLinda Williams describes) bydiscovering her pleasures and acting on them, both sexually and concerning herappetite. Of course for that reason, in the end she needs to be punished.
As wecan see in most of the horror movies of today, female victim generallyencounters her “monster” in an act leading to sexual anticipation. She eitheron the road to visit her boyfriend, or she is waiting for him and the attacktakes place unexpectedly. This is almost like a punishment for attempting todiscover her own sexuality. It can even be read as a castration for the femaleprotagonist. In Raw, towards the endof having sex with her openly gay roommate Adrian, Justine bites and chews onher own arm, which is her punishment to herself right at the moment ofintercourse. That moment is a milestone for Justine, she discovered her deepestdesires sexually and culinarily, while Adrian become the perfect representationof Clover’s “active power with bisexualcomponents”.
After reading the moviethrough approaches concerning gender and flesh, I want to focus more on thebody, 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 touchwith her body before collage but through the process she went under,discovering herself, trying out new identities, discovering her pleasures, atthe end of the movie she is a complete different “being”. We can say she becamesomething else, therefor she is a “becoming” in her own way. While talking aboutbecomings, I can’t help but quote Deleuze and Guattari “…identity and subjectivity are tied to the body; and bodies in thesefilms are mutable and open to change. These films suggest an ethologicalunderstanding of the body where bodies are not fixed and static but constantlychanging with their environment and other bodies.” While becomings we watch are in constantchange, we are too as spectators.
We are constantly moving in our seats whilewatching them, so while they’re interacting with their bodies, we areinteracting with ours and changing alongside the characters. We became aware ofour bodies and our own presence like never before. If you ask me, his is wherethe 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 thatalmost we become them. So does this make us inhuman for a period of time? Thesuppressed desire to constantly move and change and most importantly to constantly “become”, is surfaced while watching them and Istrongly think even for a while, we envy them mainly because we like the ideaof being full of possibilities. We like the idea of a world without anycategories. We want to be what we are, even if that means eating people, wewant to be that so badly. Maybe if we can be what we truly are, all the powersystems that pressures us to be stereotypical will fall apart and we canfinally be “free”.
Rizzo puts it as “Withouta fixed notion of the human, there can be no fixed notion of categories such assexuality, gender, race and ethnicity. It is not that these categories do notexist, or that the politics associated with them can be solved in a purelyconceptual way, but their parameters are not fixed in time. This furtherimplies that if the categories of male and female are unstable and open to change, then they cannot be set up asbinary opposites.” This is a very primal desire and by hiding them intohorror movies directors activate that primal side of us. For me, this is thesmartest move a filmmaker can and will ever do because horror movies arealready body genres, so they move us but by putting such delicate psychologicalmatters into them they catch us off guard.
That is why Raw has impressed so many people in such short time. It whispered ourprimal 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 meaningin horror movies and in Raw.
Us humans are abjects ourselves. We areobsoleted at the Oedipal stage and never succeed to be whole with any otherentity after our mother ever again. Maternal figure’s monstrousness in almostevery horror movie represent both admiration and fear regarding the mother. Weare defined by our mother, in theory and in reality. We need to be separatedfrom her but we need her to constantly draw the line of who we are. Creed says “abject draws the line between human andnon-human.” By showing us the abject horror movies work as reminders ofhumanity. 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 checkand prevent us from losing our sense of borders. They do it by using theadvantages of the genre and it’s subtext that every single person on Earthknows. If there is a representation of a monster in the horror movie, that isan absolute no no.
You can’t become that you can’t resemble that, you can’teven 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 inevitablethat the main characters are female. We identify with them and they define uswith 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 hersister are troubled teens and they need to be cured, if not, eliminated fromthe society. What we don’t know is after Justine’s also cannibal sister eatsher roommate’s leg and kills him, director reveals that their also vegetarianmother is a cannibal from the beginning and slowly and constantly eats theirfather 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 Oedipalstage.
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 fromtheir wrongs and inhumanity because there is no abject to draw the line betweenhuman and non-human in this movie. She is saying that it is “normal”. Shedoesn’t give us the change to experience catharsis. We can’t draw the lineespecially after the father’s closing line: “Thiswasn’t your fault, nor your sister’s.
She was different from the beginning, meand your mother couldn’t find a cure, later i guess she just got used to whatshe 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 thattells a story of a cannibal family is a hard task to begin with, but ending themovie by not giving the audience the cathartic experience it should give, andindicating that being a “monster” is the normal thing that exist in every daylife and you should accept who you are and find a way to live with it is almostimpossible. Ducornau does it exquisitely with Raw.
The audience end the movie feeling completely meaningless. Allof our understandings about horror genre and becomings has changed forever. Shetook it to the next level and I hope to see more movies that has the same depthas Raw in the future.