Every now and then a film changes the way I see the world. I went into Raw, the stunning first feature by French director Julia Ducournau, expecting horror but instead experienced an intense metaphorical drama about female power and desire. Best suited to those who like their cinema challenging, Raw refuses to let you look away.
Justine (Garance Marillier) starts her first day at a prestigious veterinary college. Her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already there and they have the fractious relationship of any siblings. Their family are strict vegetarians, something Justine takes very seriously, and so she is incensed when the college’s extreme, week-long orientation includes being doused in buckets of blood and forced to eat raw animal offal. The message is clear – if you want to succeed and be the kind of vet who can be relied upon, you need to participate. Justine comes out in a rash and then, to her own horror and guilt, begins to crave meat. A lot of meat. And not just dead animals.
Like The Lobster, Raw takes a premise that is inexplicably surreal and normalises it. There is no real-world logic to Justine’s change and the film never descends into the schlock or sensationalism of a horror gore fest. For Justine, what has awoken is desire, long repressed by her family. Her sister is the counterpoint – like any older sibling, she is the pioneer and has already separated from her parents’ world. She pulls Justine inexorably into a place where her desires, where who she is as an individual however different, is accepted. Up to a point.
Both women are integral to the story. In Alexia we see the consequences of unchecked female power and how it is allowed but also limited. Justine is on a cusp where her choices will guide the kind of life she will have – she can exist safely as a vegetarian or live dangerously as a carnivore. It is clear that the choice to eat meat allows her to fit in, to show her mettle, but it is not expected that she will be so ravenous. Marillier is mesmerising, showing through body language and posture Justine’s slow change from innocent to woman.
Although the college hazing rituals seem extreme, coincidentally I read a post just after seeing Raw from fellow movie blogger Lowlife Magazine that contained an interview with Fight Club writer Chuck Palahniuk – (For Those Looking to Write Transgressive Fiction) Fight Club’s Chuck Palahniuk Explains His Writing Method with a Disturbing Story. He recounts the story of a Frenchman he met who experienced an even more extreme hazing at his veterinary college. Click through and have a listen.
Currently in limited release in cinemas
Have you seen this film? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.