Arts and Culture

Titane: a surrealist automobile fever dream about… love?

Authors note: Spoilers ahead!

After over a year of theater closure, I wanted nothing but to be blown away by a movie. I longed to leave a theater speechless, tranced, sick and changed forever. Titane fulfilled this wish in the best way possible.

In short, Titane is about a killer who is impregnated by a car and impersonates a man’s missing son. But, what is even more wild is the director, Julia Ducournau’s take on her movie. She said for the New York Times, “You have this beautiful love story between my character, who has never been in love before, and a father who doesn’t think he can ever love again and they find out what loving means and what love means,” she said. “Love is the movie.”

At first, Ducournau’s response of “love” feels ludicrous and dismissive, like that 2009 David Lynch interview that recently resurfaced. It goes a little bit like this:

Lynch: “Eraserhead is my most spiritual film” 

Interviewer: “elaborate on that”

Lynch: (assertively) “No. I won’t.”

Although Ducournau shares some stylistic tendencies with Lynch and (fun fact) she had her female lead practice a Twin Peaks monologue for the role, Ducondo is truly a very different artist. Unlike Lynch who prefers to leave it up to the viewer, Ducondo has personal and articulate answers to journalists’ probing questions. 

When Ducournau speaks about her film, it all starts to make sense, especially the explicit car scene which at first glance could appear as a cheap prod to shock audiences. She explains during a New York Film Festival conference that the story was built from a nightmare in which she was giving birth to car engine parts. She committed to this dream as an ending and wrote the rest of the story backward from there. While writing, Ducournau inevitably faced the part of the script where she would have to address where the baby came from. She describes her thought process in an interview: “where does the baby come from?… (slight pause)… (gasp)….the car!”

Film critics seem to be caught up in finding a connection between the explicit nature of Titane and the gory depicted in her previous films, overlooking the tenderness weaved into the plotlines. Her short film, Junior for example, helped me better understand her notion of love in Titane. Junior tells the story of a teenage girl that undergoes the infamous “ugly duckling” transformation, in a not-so-typical way. The female lead catches the stomach flu and goes through a bizarrely gruesome skin-peeling metamorphosis. Junior has a happy ending, as a result of the transformation, but everyone will remember the disturbing moist sounds of the main character peeling her own skin instead of the beautiful outcome of the situation. 

When it comes down to it, Ducournau really wanted to make a movie about love and after listening to her, I think she did. Her surrealism settles in the stomach in a way that Lynch never has for me. Titane is one of those movies that grows on you afterward, and that is what makes it unforgettable.