Arts & Culture

What’s so feminist about cannibalism?


Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska gave us cannibal mermaids who feed on men in this year’s “The Lure.” Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour will offer cannibal romance later this year with “The Bad Batch” (and in her 2014 vampire film “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” in which her leading lady feasted on men exclusively). Is it a trend or something more?

Described as a “cannibal coming-of-age story” and a “new body-horror classic” by “The Rolling Stone,” French writer-director Julia Ducournau’s chilling debut film “Raw” is an example of a monster movie that doesn’t criticize or punish its monster. In fact, we are made to sympathize with Justine, our shy, innocent main character, who learns to embrace her physical and sexual power while also indulging in her lust for flesh.

In an interview with “GQ,” director Ducournau says, “Usually monsters are called ‘them.’ They are creatures from outer space, or zombies, stuff like that. I’ve always found that funny, because we have all felt . . . like monsters, you know? For me, the concept of monstrosity should be seen as ‘I,’ not as ‘they.’ For me, this is a point where my audience can actually relate to my character no matter what she does.”

In “Raw,” it’s Justine’s first year of veterinary school. The moment her parents drop her off, Justine and the other freshman undergo excruciating hazing rituals at the hands of the upperclassmen, including Justine’s older sister, Alexia. They are drenched in pig’s blood, likely an homage to “Carrie,” and forced to eat a piece of raw rabbit’s kidney — and thus the film’s inciting incident is introduced; at first, Justine is disgusted along with her peers, but later she experiences cravings which send her to the mini-fridge in the middle of the night, to scarf down raw chicken breast. Soon the cravings send her to more gruesome endeavors, like — you guessed it — eating people!

This film contains several squirm-inducing scenes and moments that even made patrons pass out at the Midnight Madness showing at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, but Ducournau did not make the movie to shock. Unlike many other films in the horror genre, she chose to make a film that did not glamorize, romanticize or sexualize the female body.

In the same “GQ” article Ducournau speaks on a scene in the film featuring a first bikini wax gone terribly, terrifyingly wrong. “This waxing scene is very important to me because it’s not by chance that I chose to have my main character be female.” Ducournau says, “At one point I thought it could be a guy because you explore all options. Since this work is around bodies and involves a lot of sexuality, I have more to defend with a female character because I do believe that the way the female body is portrayed on our screens is unrelatable. I can’t relate to the sexualization of the body, and I can’t relate to the glamorization of the female body.”

She goes on to explain how she wanted to make a scene as archetypically feminine as one of waxing the pubic area universally relatable. “I wanted men and women to feel for her. Of course, my aim is to build up an empathy that reaches the whole audience, not only women. I really wanted to take the female body outside of its niche and to make it universal. I managed to make everyone in the audience react to it.”

This article first appeared in the Friday, November 3, 2017, Edition of The Echo.