Feature Four Frames

Four Frames: how Raw is about the animal in all of us

In its opening scenes, Julia Ducournau’s Raw  establishes Justine (Garance Marillier) as a strict vegetarian; when she finds a piece of meat in her mashed potatoes at a buffet, she spits it out with repulsion. However, through a series of increasingly squirm-inducing moments, Ducournau traces her protagonist’s journey to the polar opposite of the gastronomic spectrum: cannibalism.

This strange metamorphosis begins when Justine undergoes a particularly cruel hazing ceremony during her first year at veterinary school. In one of the film’s many vivid sequences, she and the other first-year students are doused in animal blood and forced to swallow rabbit kidneys. Her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), pressures her to eat the raw meat: “Don’t start the year by chickening out,” she warns. “They’re watching.”

The rabbit kidney awakens long-dormant, carnivorous desires in young Justine. Ducournau cleverly likens the character’s newfound hunger to drug addiction: she becomes restless, scratches herself incessantly, and complains of always having an empty stomach. Her only satiation is more meat. These cravings begin innocently enough. In one darkly-humorous scene, she steals a hamburger patty and hides it in her lab coat. Later, she and her roommate, Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella), travel off campus to eat shawarma at a roadside rest stop. Immediately after, her hunger intensifies and she consumes raw meat from Adrien’s fridge.

Justine’s transformation culminates in perhaps the film’s most disturbing sequence. During a botched attempt to give her younger sister a bikini wax, Alexia accidentally cuts off her own finger with a pair of scissors and passes out on the floor. Left alone with the finger, Justine goes from licking the pooled blood on her palm, to tentatively sucking the severed finger, to hungrily devouring it as if it were a delicious chicken wing.

While the rest of the film chronicles Justine’s coming to terms with what she discovers is a dark family secret, these expository sequences create an atmosphere that is by turns stomach-churning and unexpectedly comical. Ducournau dissects the hazy line separating humans from animals and comes to an unsettling conclusion: at the end of the day, we’re all meat.

By Thomas M. Puhr

Thomas M. Puhr lives in Chicago and is a regular contributor to Bright Lights Film Journal and Film International. He is also an editor for The Big Picture. His book Fate in Film: A Deterministic Approach to Cinema is available from Wallflower Press.

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