Projected Thoughts: "Raw" (English, 2016)

Updated on January 28, 2019
EC Wells profile image

I'm a vegan who attempts to limit my exposure to violence in films. I literally cover my eyes at various points in some films.

"Raw" has won awards around the globe. Julia Ducournau, the writer and director, is a graduate of La Fémis in Paris. There is an explosive, if not appreciable, review of "Raw" at The Rolling Stone by David Fear. It may be a solid introduction, if you haven't seen the film.

Movie poster for Raw (2016)
Movie poster for Raw (2016) | Source

Foreground & Focal Point

"What are you hungry for?"

From the poster, prior even to beginning the film, the mainstream steers viewers toward the hunger. I want to question that and posit another possible thesis, well-developed in the film.

"Raw" is a film, so let's look through the lens of camera verbiage.

In any scene, that often experienced as most prominent is that which is closest, which is the foreground. Consider a portrait. In a conventional portrait the image of the subject is immediate. They are in the foreground, and if there is any considerable background, it is there to compliment the foreground.

David Fear's review of "Raw," while it mentions various significances and semiotic readings, looks mostly to the foreground. If we trust the film's marketing, the foreground is hunger, specifically the hunger of Justine (played by Garance Marillier). Though a more penetrating reading of the film reveals hunger here functions as a metonym. The hunger is actually a vector that moves Justine to commit the taboo behavior, cannibalism.

Here the foregrounded metonym connects with the behavior while maintaining distance which eases the audience into identifying with Justine. We see the question: "What are you hungry for?" And we can identify with the experience of hunger. To see the question: "Do you eat people?" would generate a very different experience.

It's significant to keep in mind that most people who watch the film aren't hoping to see Justine sit on a couch and hold her belly. And writer / director Julia Ducournau does not devote much of the film to Justine's experience of simple hunger.

Behind Even the Act

We have developed a reading of the foregrounded hunger as metonym for the act of cannibalism. But if this is foreground, what is the background?

Let's set up one more axis of foreground and background. If the foreground is immediate, then it seems that now is the foreground. It seems intuitive enough to consider the past the background on this axis. The future, while less intuitive can be seen as a relative background, too. Distance is the operative, one can look back or forward. In either direction the now is here; the past and future respectively are removed, and arguably obscured.

There are intense (now) moments in this film. One such is a struggle between Justine's personal hunger and social sanction. After admitting things are difficult to her roommate Adrien (played by Rabah Nait Oufella), they initiate supportive intercourse. This excites Justine's hunger, that vector with magnitude and direction. So, here is a (now) moment of struggle. Looking to the background, Justine has been socially sanctioned, which is to say shamed, for biting another classmate while making out. This background and her roommate's dissuasion ultimately guide her navigation of the moment.

But to understand what is significant let's consider a tale about coffee. A girl walks into a coffee shop. She orders a coffee without sugar. The server explains he can give her a coffee without milk, but can't give her a coffee without sugar, because the shop has no sugar.

What does any of this have to do with Justine's moment of struggle?

Consider the three components of the moment struggle:

  • hunger (a vector or motivation)
  • satiation (desired state without hunger)
  • action (behavior that carries the actor along the vector toward the desired state)

For a fuller perspective let's return to another background, the opening scene of the film. Justine's older sister, Alexia (played by Ella Rumpf), causes a car accident. There is a later iteration when Alexia is shown tasting one of the victims of another car accident she has caused.

Now, let's return to Justine in her moment of struggle during intercourse with Adrien. She bites herself, releasing orgasmic sounds.

In so much as any two individuals' hungers can be compared, it might be said that both Alexia, in the car accident scene, and Justine, in the intercourse scene, have arrived at satiation. Perhaps they have experienced similar hungers, but they chose different actions to arrive at satiation. These divergent pathways to comparable destinations reaches its climax in the final scenes at the school the sisters attend together. And notably, at the end of the film, Alexia is incarcerated while Justine has returned home.

It seems arguable that within the reality of the characters in this film the negation of the hunger, the privileged state of satiation, is more important. This is despite its relative position as background, in the non-immediate future, removed from the now of hunger. Satiation, that state, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether by socially acceptable or unacceptable pathways, the body moves to arrive at.

And here then seems to be the potent thesis at the focal point within "Raw." A "socially successful" individual is one who finds the most socially acceptable pathways to arrive at personal satiation.

Notice the absence of hunger?

(For a film with deviant and taboo content, something about this thesis seems highly conventional.)

General Likability

Google Users
Rotten Tomatoes
79% liked
75% liked
3.5 / 5 (calculated from 7 / 10) stars
91% tomatometer
81 Metacritic score

© 2019 EC Wells

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