**WARNING: CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR TITANE**
There is a problem with arthouse films: A deep, disturbing problem that Titane tackles seamlessly. And no, it’s not auto-erotica, pun definitely intended. Rather, Titane drives to the heart of the issue that not enough indies are seen by people — let alone observed by sensually flaming cars. To its cool metallic engine core, Titane is a rape-revenge fantasy that revs its engine to the reclamation of sexuality, the horrors of being an outsider, and fulfilling someone else’s grief.
Director Julia Ducournau specialises in the unsanitised urges that separates man — not woman — from machine. The Palme d’Or winning film firmly reflects a three-act structure, with the Neon Pictures distributors’ logo barely giving way to Alexia (Agathe Rouselle) writhing atop a Cadillac after a loveless childhood resulted in her surgically becoming one with a vehicle. The metal plate in Alexia’s head has also been welded into her heart, and any form of intimacy comes with a cold reminder that satisfaction can only really come from within. Alexia, finding fame as a car show dancer, is followed into her own, less flashy ride home, and after the insatiable fan attempts to assault her, Alexia murders her first victim…or rather, the first victim the audience is shown. Alexia returns to be amongst the cars that give her a sense of stability, of support, and she enters the backseat to consensually give herself to a Cadillac.
Now, this is the pivotal Titane moment, the one that the Internet should be abuzz about: Alexia climaxes and becomes impregnated by a car. Yet, the gorgeously shot sequences — Alexia’s hands wrapped around seatbelts, the rise and fall of the shock gears as she gives in to her own craving — are a fantasy. As Alexia grapples with her otherworldly pregnancy, we can only wonder what actually happened in her own car, the one where she even believes to have killed a would-be assailant. Could her unborn child literally be tearing Alexia apart not because she’s leaking gasoline, but on an emotional scale? The jaw-dropping elements of Titane arrive only after the attempted rape against Alexia, and we could argue that Alexia’s sexual encounter with a car — where she is in control, choosing how to craft her own pleasure — is a defence against her own trauma.
The second part of Titane plunges into Alexia’s fascination with mass murder, taking out her anger and frustration to understand her assault on everyone around her. She eventually goes on the run as cops catch on, hitchhiking her way to a police station, where — and at this point, a spoiler warning — she pretends to be a missing boy, grown up, and is taken home by a kind-hearted firefighter (Vincent Lindon) who thinks Alexia is his child. And here is where it’s clear to this Law and Order: Special Victims Unit fan that Titane’ is sharply a study on sexual assault and fathers. Alexia can only show love through sex, acting as a machine herself, but with her non-father, Alexia realises that man can be more sensitive than she ever knew. Alexia does not have to rely on metal for warmth any longer.
Lindon’s performance as a blindly grieving authority figure is also eerily familiar to SVU’s Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). From a career as a public servant to Lindon’s physical similarities to Meloni, right down to their shared Zaddy physiques and sensitive alpha male-turned-family man on-screen personas, it’s almost as though the characters are brothers. Has Titane given us another Stabler?
For those who have not indulged themselves in one of the 23 seasons of Law and Order spinoff, Special Victims Unit, Eliot Stabler has gone from nuclear family man to frustrated cop to grieving widower, leading to another series, Organised Crime. Stabler’s trajectory mirrors both American politics and the progression of trauma; SVU has taken on headline-grabbing stories like the Me Too movement in Hollywood and even adapting an elite sex trafficking ring for a two-episode arc mirroring Jeffrey Epstein’s case.
In the vein of Titane, SVU has also not strayed away from capturing the range of assault survivors’ emotions. A season two episode titled “Closure,” which aired in 2000, told the story of a woman who stalks her alleged rapist and his family. Other episodes have shown revenge crimes involving cutting off an attacker’s penis on a subway and publicly shaming college campus rapists through university cyber-stalking means. Titane’s Alexia is a survivor in more ways than one, and her fracture with reality that starts with her having sex with a car begs us to wonder which parts of her serial killer sequences are real. By the time Alexia meets her firefighting father figure savior, it’s as if living with him is a form of rehab, a jail cell coupled with therapy so Alexia can find her purpose and shed her old, hard-as-steel identity. Stabler frequently works with survivors on the series, and famously is known for crossing the line in interrogation rooms, equating each victim with his own daughters. Has Alexia’s would-be dad not done exactly the same?
Watching Titane, we could only picture what the other side of the story would be if Stabler was investigating Alexia’s assault. And, the physical similarities both in posture and facial features between Meloni and Lindon only added to the SVU parallels.
The only way to know for sure is to see the film for yourself. Vincent Lindon or Christopher Meloni, any thoughts?
by Samantha Bergeson
Sam can’t stop thinking (and talking and writing and ranting…) about her personal experiences with film. She’s just as comfortable watching a Razzie-nominated movie as an Oscar winner, and can debate the merits of both Clueless and Casino any day. Find Sam live-tweeting about reality TV and her obsession with dogs on Twitter at @sbergrig.