The Body Electric: An Analysis of Gender and Identity in Julia Ducournau’s Titane

*The following article contains major spoilers of the movie.

Titane is a movie about gender and identity. Even though this might blend in with an original horror story about sex, murder, and father and son relationships, Julia Ducournau builds her film in a way where the physical female body is constantly challenged to fit or respond to specific situations controlled by exterior factors, or in other words, a society that ruled by straight white men. However, instead of making a movie that critiques the patriarchy, Ducournau uses the idea of the body as a machine to study the male and female gender in two different scenarios that have one thing in common: trauma.

In the first part of the film, Alexia is a machine. The story starts with a girl humming the noise of a car engine to annoy her father until this creates an accident where she is saved by having a plate of titane implanted on her head. The first thing she does after leaving the hospital, however, is embracing and kissing the car that almost killed her. Later in life, Alexia makes money by dancing half-naked on top of cars in exhibitions and even “having sex” with them. With that said, we can see the only physical attraction and connection she seems to have is with metal-made objects, which is also explicitly evident when she has an intense pleasure by sucking the only part of her girlfriend’s body that isn’t made of flesh, which is her piercing. Not only that, but she also has a metal stick that holds her hair that she uses to commit violent crimes, especially towards men who wish to take advantage of her.

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While we could say this is a response to Alexia’s accident, we could also analyze this as a metaphor for Alexia’s gender, especially when we realize there’s something somewhat sinister happening between her and her father, who share such a cold and indifferent relationship that is impossible to not imagine that they hate each other. They don’t talk to each other and he seems to contempt Alexis while he analyzes her body one morning. Not only that, the car accident at the beginning of the movie happened only because Alexis was trying to annoy her father. Does this rage come from the fact that she is a woman? Is it because he used to abuse her? Or is it because he is a man? Julia Ducournau leaves these questions open to interpretation, but it’s impossible to ignore them, especially because of the second part of the film, where she is forced to physically become a man.

But before Alexia becomes Adrien, she discovers she is pregnant, which is the most significant change that could happen to her androgynous body. She tries killing it with her hair-stick like she is used to doing to other men. But after not succeeding in it, she commits mass murder, almost as if she decides to protect her baby from all the people around her – and this includes locking her parents inside of their bedroom while she puts her house on fire. Alexia is angry with the world. Is it because she is a woman? Is it because she was abused? We don’t know, and probably neither does she. When she realizes the cops are looking after her, she decides to defy her body once again, which is cutting off her hair and breaking her nose in the sink to look like a teenager named Adrian, who disappeared when he was seventeen.

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As we enter the second part of the movie, Titane becomes even more complex and hilarious for its absurdity. Alexia, who is pregnant from a car, needs to hide her big belly and breasts to become Adrian, who is nothing but the disappeared son of a muscular firefighter called Vincent, who runs a fire station. Inside of this station, Vincent is seen as a father figure by his peers – especially Rayane, who is the first to suspect that Adrian isn’t actually who he says he is and feels rejected after his mentor finally finds his “son”. From that moment on, Alexis must hide her gender and identity to become Adrien. But isn’t this what she has been doing with Alexis’ body all along?

Things become even more complex and metalinguistic when we learn more about Vincent, the firefighter who lost his son and seems to accept this strange figure that calls himself Adrian to fulfill the hole the loss of his son has left inside of him. The way he slowly starts to realize her son is actually a woman could easily be seen as the same way a father realizes their children are actually another gender, and this is obvious throughout the film as Alexis is constantly trying to hide her body in tape, which is the same way many transgender men do to hide their gender. But what’s even more interesting is that Alexis is reluctant in the beginning, and even runs away from Vincent’s house by the middle of the movie. But after an extremely important scene where she is in a bus and starts listening to several boys talking about how they like to have sex with “bitches-holes”, Alexis decides to come back to her new home, almost as if she decides to quit her old life as a woman for good and embrace this new identity to finally become Adrian.

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When Alexis comes back, she cuts her entire hair and starts helping her new father for good, slowly becoming Adrian. With the exception of Rayane, she starts having a good relationship with the other firemen and even starts talking with Vincent. Maybe this broken fireman can also be the father she never had, and they finally start accepting one another. The only problem, however, is that her old identity is still manifesting inside of her belly as a mutant child who is half-machine and half-human. When Vincent finally sees her body, he says that it doesn’t matter if she is a man or a woman, because, for him, she is her son.

This could easily be seen as a story about a father accepting her daughter as a man if it wasn’t for the fact that Adrien is actually a woman called Alexis. The way Julia Ducournau builds her female character, however, raises important questions about identity and the way we use our bodies to express ourselves. More important than that, it shows how the male gender is way more susceptible to love, acceptance, and caring than one of the female gender, even if both of them aren’t exactly perfect. Alexis is more machine than woman and Adrien is more woman than man, and the way our personalities and identities are shaped can pretty much be the result of how much love we receive. And Titane is very touching through this perspective, especially when Alexis’ baby is born. When the half-human half-machine comes out of Alexis’ female body, Vincent learns her real name and accepts her baby as his own, as if he finally accepts Adrian as Alexis. As for Alexis, she leaves the world not as a woman nor as a man, but something else entirely, whose legacy will now pass on from mother to soon. Or father to son, as Vincent tells the baby, “I’m here”.

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