Written and directed by Julia Ducournau and winner of the Palme d’Or award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, “Titane” is a daringly unusual film about serial killer Alexia, her impersonation to evade the law and her extreme and bodily love for cars. With elements of gore and suspense as well as drama, the film is terrifyingly profound and effective at its best times, but also has an air of excess at times, and the potential to be divisive in reception.
‘Titane’ Plot Summary
The film’s narrative begins with a young Alexia and her father traveling in a car on the highway; Alexia imitates the sound of a revving car engine, which annoys her father and makes him lose concentration on the road. As a result, the car crashes against a barrier, badly injuring the young girl. In order to keep her alive, a titanium plate was attached to her skull, leaving a permanent scar on the side of her head. As she is released from the hospital, Alexia seems disinterested in the company of her parents and instead chooses to embrace and kiss the car smilingly. Many years later, Alexia is now an adult woman who works as a stripper/performer at car shows.
One night, as she leaves her workplace, a man pursues her for an autograph, professes his love for her, and forcibly tries to kiss her. Alexia pulls him close as they kiss, and then brutally stabs her hairpin into his ear, killing him within seconds. She returns to her workplace to take a shower and wash off stains from the encounter when she hears loud metallic bangs coming from the garage and goes out to check what is wrong. She sees the Cadillac car that she was earlier performing on with its lights on, and is taken over by sexual desire as she touches it lovingly, enters the car, and then appears to engage in sexual intercourse with it. The next morning, Alexia wakes up with black oil stains on her thighs, a stiff abdomen, and a pain in her stomach. She lives with her parents in their house but is evidently distanced from them.
That evening, while on a date with Justine, another performer who works with her, Alexia throws up, feels a bulge in her stomach, and black motor oil-secreting from her vagina, and ultimately finds out that she is pregnant from her last night’s encounter. While making love to Justine later that night, she impulsively murders her and all the other men and women at the house. One of the women holds off Alexia and manages to escape, leaving Alexia in a shaken state physically. She returns home, burns off her clothes, and in the process sets the house ablaze. Finding her parents sleeping in their room, she locks their door, killing them in the process, and sets out on her own.
She hitchhikes and reaches the airport to find that she is now wanted for murder, and realizes that the police are actively searching for her. However, along with her wanted poster, she also sees the photograph of a young boy who had gone missing ten years ago and the digital imagining of what he might look like now. Realizing that she bore a resemblance to the image, and finding this to be an ideal escape plan, Alexia decides to impersonate the boy, Adrien. She cuts her hair short, tightly winds tape around her torso in order to hide the shape of her breasts and her growing belly, and also breaks her nose to look closer at Adrien. She then hands herself over to the police, who contact Adrien’s father, Vincent, who dismisses the idea of a DNA test and welcomingly takes Alexia home.
Vincent And Alexia: The Long-Lost Father And Son
The theme of estrangement in parental relations is quite central, although indirectly, in the narrative. Alexia and her father seem to be irritated and distanced from each other; since the very beginning—she knowingly annoys him in the car, which ultimately leads to the accident, he seems to feel awkward and a bit disgusted even when he touches adult Alexia’s belly while checking her (the father is professionally a doctor). He also notices Alexia’s return home in bloody clothes and perhaps considers her as the serial killer the news had been mentioning but chooses to stay aloof about it.
From the middle of the film, the narrative and this theme take quite a surprising and extreme turn as Vincent brings Alexia home, believing her to be his lost son, Adrien. Vincent, who is the captain at a fire station, starts to treat Alexia with all the love and care (as he believes) as well as a bit of obsessive sternness that can be seen as the exact opposite of the detachment that Alexia’s real father showed. As he keeps saying through the dialogues, he wants to “look after” Alexia/Adrien. He gives her a new look, takes her along on firefighting duties, and wants her to talk to him (she does not speak at all as she is trying to protect her identity). There is a sense of similarity between the two as they are both quite bodily—while Alexia is comfortable and wants to be in control of her body as she tries to perform an abortion on herself and then also hides her breasts and belly, Vincent, on the other hand, wants to preserve what his body had once been.
He regularly takes injections of steroids to try and hold on to his youthful strength and vigor, but is seemingly failing at it. Be it for the change in the paternal relationship or for this more symbolic similarity, Alexia starts to be more comfortable, and then one day she gets the opportunity to run away from the house when she finds Vincent struggling with an overdose episode. But Alexia decides not to flee but to stay, and she stays put with Vincent till the very end. At the very end, Vincent, too, gets to know Alexia’s real identity and decides to stay by her and help her give birth. It is Vincent who holds Alexia’s baby, telling it that he is here for it, as Alexia lies dead beside them.
‘Titane’ Ending Explained: What Is Alexia’s Relation With Titanium?
Alexia’s life has seemingly changed ever since she grew up with the titanium plate keeping her skull together. It is almost as if the titanium in her body possesses her mind and body as well, enabling her to have sex with a car and also get pregnant with a baby whose father is undoubtedly a Cadillac. As Alexia grows more pregnant, she has more passage of black motor oil from her vagina and breasts as well; at one point, she scratches a hole on the skin of her belly, which partially reveals a shiny metal womb inside her. In her painful birth-giving process, the hole grows bigger and the skin on her belly cracks up, with more and more motor oil gushing out till she finally gives birth and then dies in the process. The baby, too, appears to have a spine made of titanium.
But what does all of this mean? It is difficult to say what this human intermixing with metal might mean in terms of reality or even what it might symbolize, as the film does not leave any hints. While the supernatural possession of a human body by a metal can be one perspective, it can also be looked at as the director’s very visual technique to present the unnaturalness of Alexia. She is one who murders in cold blood, who takes life only for the fun of it when she is in the mood. Whoever wants to get close to Alexia physically as well as romantically ends up being killed, and the only time she makes love without any bloody repercussion is with automobiles—the Cadillac toward the beginning and a firetruck toward the end.
“Titane” employs dark comedy and gore in some parts as well. The scene of Alexia killing Justine and everyone else in her house does present itself with a polish of very dark humor, as an upbeat song plays while a murder happens, and then with the fact that Alexia (and the audience) is unaware of how many people are actually there inside the house, and each of them appears one by one (and Alexia keeps killing them off). Elements of gore and extreme violence abound throughout the film, though it is solely through Alexia’s own pregnant body in the latter half, as her unnatural child gradually tears out of her body. With powerful acting and cinematography, “Titane” is quite an unnaturally pleasant watch for those not put-off by visual gore, violence, and sex. However, despite the numerous themes and possible symbolism introduced throughout the film, few actually lead anywhere, and some may appear to be present only to fake profundity.
“Titane” is a 2021 drama-horror film directed by Julia Ducournau.