Titane — Is It Transphobic?
Let’s talk queer body horror
Julia DuCournau’s sophomore movie, Titane, won the Palm D’Or at Cannes last year (her debut was the veterinary cannibal romp, Raw), only the second time a film directed by a woman has done so. As a woman, I think it’s good, if pathetic, that in 2021 we should be celebrating only the second time this has happened. This neatly underlines how far western society has to go in terms of equality for women, much less people of color, gays and lesbians, and the bi, trans and intersex communities. So little progress in so much time.
The film is a body horror that immediately evokes Cronenberg’s Crash and Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo, with tiny dashes of Maury and Bustillo’s A l’intérieur. It’s the tale of a woman, Alexia, who survives a childhood car crash with a titanium plate in her head. Who then goes on a killing spree, as well as fucking cars (literally). Then she poses as a missing boy, returned as an adult. The rest of the movie examines her relationship with the boy’s father, who is determined to accept this person, and her growing, unnatural pregnancy.
Pretty high concept. It’s outrageous, sickening, and achingly misanthrophic. Intentionally so.
My trans fiancee and I already had our hackles rise with the idea that a serial killer was posing as the opposite gender to avoid capture — an accusation we constantly hear as trans women. Then we saw the father of the missing boy, an aging macho man with a heavily bruised ass cheek, being stabbed again with a testosterone shot. Uh oh.
So we had a perversion of the tran-masculine experience, weaponising the idea of those acting as the other gender being dangerous and deceptive, and then we see a cis man mimicking the ritual that brings relief to so many trans men. It stung.
We immediately began to wonder if we would soon see a scene of our killer shooting herself with her cuckoo father’s T, further doubling down on the trans-baiting and skewing her awful gestation yet more. Fortunately such a scene never came. But the film is rife with so many other insanely queer-coded scenes and set-ups. The mis-en-scene alone is painfully ham-fisted in shading all the homoerotic overtones in shades of pink and violet. Subtle it is not. Even as a gay woman, I felt the homoeroticism was so ladled on that it bordered on parody.
Of course a lack of subtlety is no concrete criticism of what is, after all, a horror film.
What’s irritating is that the film has nothing at all to say, while leaving behind a pile of corpses, including to a degree, trans and wider queer dignity. Any feminist, or queer (our killer appears to like fucking vehicles AND women) reading of the central character is undermined by how determinedly unpleasant she is, occasionally comically so as highlighted in an early scene where she kills an entire household, her only visible emotion being exasperation that there are more people in the house that she thought and so the killing continues. And continues.
That her unnatural body is still recognisibly female, and used as a vessel for the dénoument, carries even less feminist challenge.
This is not aided by the fact that the only other recognisably human characters are the usual fodder for violence (ciphers, all) and her adoptive father — a cisgender, straight, middle-aged white man who shows compassion both for her and her spawn.
Seriously, I could see the Men’s Rights Activism crowd championing this movie as a positive representation, even down to the father’s unselfconscious and quite sensual dancing as being less queer-coded (which it is) and more ‘sensitive and comfortable in his sexuality’. Goddess give me strength.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie. It’s well made. Suspenseful. Less predictable than average, if lacking in originality.
But from such an obviously talented female director, in a male-dominated genre, it’s ham-fisted as fuck, empty of lasting value, and a huge missed opportunity. IMHO horror films should be transgressive. Titane isn’t even that.
And yes, it IS transphobic. The entire movie hinges on the killer’s gender deceit. In 2021, that’s not good enough.