There’s a quote that has resonated with me after reading it a few years ago. While I can no longer find the source or the exact wording, the gist has always stuck with me. It’s about how we perceive cinematic depictions of powerful women versus how we perceive the same for men. It goes something like ‘When the story is about a man receiving or discovering power, it’s a superhero story, but if it’s a woman it’s a horror story.’ It’s a simple concept. In cinema (and storytelling at large ) men get power fantasies and to be the saviors of their stories, especially if the stories are about them coming of age. Movies like Teen Wolf, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Big have these boys becoming men and show them that their adolescence brings endowments of strength and fortitude that they didn’t have when they were less than men. However, if the story focuses on a girl transitioning to womanhood, writers and directors choose to depict it as a saga of blood soaked horrors. Classic horror films such as Carrie and Ginger Snaps along with more contemporary flicks like The Witch, The Bad Batch and The Lure (which screens at IU Cinema this week) all explore in grisly detail that any such power obtained at the turn of adolescence and discovery is destructive or a means of pure survival. Julia Ducournau’s 2017 cannibal coming of age tale Raw aims to focus on one girl’s journey into examining her own newly realized appetites as she enters the lurid world of French veterinary school.
Raw opens with our timid and bookish protagonist Justine (Garance Marillier) ordering up a mountainous mound of mashed potatoes. When the server behind the counter asks if she wants any meat, she refuses. She and her family are staunch lifetime vegetarians. When she discovers a bland grayish ball of nondescript meat in her mash, her mother flips out at the server. You can see how uncomfortable but used to the scene Justine and her father are. It reads as if her mother is sheltering Justine’s taste buds from something too sinful for her consumption.
Justine is sent off to veterinary school. She is greeted by a surprise raid on her dorm room by upperclassmen. Her first interaction with her gay male roommate leads them to a bacchanalian blowout of stimulating and simultaneously terrifying delights. She realizes she not in Kansas anymore.
Unfortunately as her time progresses in school she’s met with more and more difficult and demeaning challenges, her first being to consume a raw rabbit’s kidney. She balks and protests at the ritual (all the freshman are made to do it) but is eventually persuaded to by her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) who has long since discarded her vegetarian lifestyle since being in school. While we don’t know what Alexia was like before she went to school, Justine’s reaction to seeing her for the first time in a while is all the watcher needs to suss out that Alexia has changed. She is more brash and experienced than Justine, leaving herself open to consume and savor every venture around her—something Justine has a hard time doing.
But things start to change for Justine. After the taste of animal flesh Justine starts craving more. She eats raw fish straight from the packaging, and swipes burgers from the cafeteria line. It all starts out in secret in same way we hide any of our unconventional desires, but it takes on a sexual tone. Justine is in pure bliss as she chomps into the fish, and she hides the burger the same way a 13-year-old hides a stolen nudie mag under their shirt at a new stand.
As the movie progresses however, she becomes increasingly more influenced by her university surroundings. Once gangly and awkward in a tight dress and pumps she’s forced to wear as part of the hazing process from the upperclassmen, she now wears them with the allure and power of someone who’s come into their body. She attacks her first sexual experience with a seemingly unquenchable thirst. Her tastes start developing in the most literal sense. During a tense scene where Alexia pressures Justine into letting her give Justine a Brazilian wax, it escalates (albeit not in the way you think it will) to a point where Justine finds out that animal meat isn’t enough for her anymore. She finds out that with the discovery of her exciting and powerful new appetites comes the scary realization that she now has to control it.
It all culminates with her peers and upperclassmen recoiling in horror as she fully embraces her cravings at an end of the year party. She’s on full display. Even Alexia is shocked. This is the movie positing that for the strength a woman gets in finding authority in her tastes—due to those around her—she still has to put reins on those same desires. To quote a male superhero story, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Justine now has learned that she has to choose the right outlet for her cravings. Nowhere is this clearer than at the end of the movie when Justine talks with her father about her mother’s own tastes. Even though it comes as a shock to Justine due to how secret it seems her mother and father have kept those tastes over the years. But it serves as a valuable lesson for Justine: There are ways to have your cake and eat it too.
David Carter will introduce The Lure directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska screens at IU Cinema tonight Monday, April 24, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday April 29, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. in the International Arthouse Series. The early summer International Arthouse Series offerings have just been announced. Please visit IU Cinema’s website for details.
David Carter is a film lover and a menace. He plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against him. His taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between.