There’s an interesting moment in the French cannibalism movie Julia Ducournau’s Raw when the main character Justine (Garance Marillier), opines to her friends that eating meat is cruel because animals have emotions. The moment is particularly compelling because the action of the film takes place at a veterinary school where students are being trained to care for animals. This comes as the new students, Justine being one of them are made to eat eyeballs and other gross out things as a part of a hazing process. What Raw spends the rest of the movie asking is what it means to be a hunter and what it means to have prey. Is there an ethical way to satiate “biological” functions and yet act as responsible human being? Of course, superimposed over this is perhaps greater question of what it means to be a woman in society. Justine is initiated into the school by her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), who is as wild and free as Justine is gawky and unsure. Here we have to recognize the importance of the sisters names. Justine refers to the famous novel by Marquis De Sade and his heroine who in trying to make her way in France and is subject to all kinds of degradation. This kind of Bildungsroman emphasis Raw’s Justine as someone who is innocent and yet when she finds herself accosted by the desire of the body, to eat and fornicate. She fights these desires to keep what she considers her humanity. Her sister is the opposite, she believer her appetite is the essence of her nature and thus, the real her.
There’s a monstrous feminine power to the sisters, something deep and dark within them that if not suppressed will make them animals. The fissures of the body, the need to fill the sublime torturous hunger, cartwheels into a space much like Poe’s tarn that swallows meaning itself, making hunger for food, sex, and violence into one greater bodily calling. Feeders and eaters all of us, the girls outside of social control spiral into an animalistic orgy that even leads them to attack one another. Works like Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel show us a fecund world where the life of the stomach, bowels and other orifices are not divorced from the spiritual, political or divine aspects of existence. Consuming is a way of creating, but what exactly is Justine making when she allows her dormant hunger free? The answers as in all good horror films are never forthcoming. But the assertion leads us to a place I wished the filmmakers had explored more fully. What does it mean to consume without thought? Is the world simply made up of prey and predator? Is society the straightjacket that limits the animal urges and if so, why is this an explicitly feminine attribute? Is family the first line of defense to curb barbaric behavior? Raw askes interesting and disturbing questions, but doesn’t follow up on any one strand. And therefore the movie feels much more like the hors devour than a main course.